BWW Review: BYHALIA, MISSISSIPPI Tackles Issues
Another important event in Birmingham this weekend was the staged reading of a new play by Chicago playwright Evan Linder entitled BYHALIA, MISSISSIPPI. It was unusual in that this reading happened simultaneously with presentations in seven theatres across the country including Toronto, Charleston, Chicago, Memphis, Boulder,Colorado and Los Angeles. Monday night there will be a live online "conversation" between all of the cast and audience members who want to participate in discussing this provocative new work.
Selected to participate in this event was our own Theatre Downtown and the cast included Kelsey Sherrer Crawford, Matthew D. Whaley, Brooke Wood, David Edward Perry, and Brittney Williams. Directed by Daniel Martin, the cast did a good job of bringing to life a story with no set or props, scripts in hand.
The story is so intense that it draws you in and you never miss the set and quickly ignore the scripts. This talented cast brought the story to life and made us care for these characters immediately.
Although it starts out lighthearted and hilarious, it takes a turn when an infidelity is revealed in the birth of a child. Although the incident is brought to a head because of race, I personally did not see the play strictly as a play about race.
I wrote in my notes, "This play brings up issues of class, race, family, faithfulness, and forgiveness. It makes you question where you draw the line on betrayal. How forgiving can you be?"
After the reading there was a talk back with the cast that started out like most of these things do- with awkward silence. But as this audience, made up mostly of theatre folk from the area, began to discuss the play I was pleasantly surprised by the intelligent, open and honest conversation that I heard. Race, infidelity, character development and conflict were all a part of the discussion.
Once again, Birmingham has come a long way- not only racially, but socially and artistically. I loved listening to the dialogue started by this presentation. We even wondered aloud what the audiences in places like Boulder and Toronto would see that we didn't and visa-versa. Luckily, we can find out during the online discussion this Monday evening.
Theatre Downtown has been granted permission to be one of the first theatres to present a fully developed production of this play in an upcoming season and I personally cannot wait to see the whole thing again.
This was a onetime presentation that was truly exceptional. Between the opening of The Lyric and this premiere event, Birmingham has shown the whole country that we are becoming a true force in the theatre world.