BWW Review: INVISIBLE MAN in New England Debut at Huntington Theatre Company
Bougere carries the weight of the play on his shoulders and never falters. In each stage of the character's life, he inhabits the appropriate physical and emotional layers as if it were his own experience. His performance is complemented by nine incredible actors and actresses in the ensemble who each play multiple roles with nary a false note. Bostonians Johnny Lee Davenport, De'Lon Grant, and Jeremiah Kissel make their impact respectively as the nefarious college president, a disenchanted youth leader of the Brotherhood, and Brother Jack, the white leader who recruits invisible man to the organization.
McKinley Belcher III increases the level of intensity as Ras, a fanatical neighborhood organizer who challenges the Brotherhood. The softer side of the street is well-represented by Brian D. Coats (shopping cart man) and Deidra LaWan Starnes as Mary Rambo, a nurturing mother figure to invisible man. Edward James Hyland plays opposite ends of the white spectrum as a college trustee who sees the future in the young man, as well as one of the stiff bureaucrats who controls the Brotherhood. Joy Jones and Julia Watt complete the ensemble.
The powerful themes of Invisible Man are peppered with moments of lightness and levity. As in the novel, there is an infusion of music. It would be impossible to tell this story without paying homage to the blues. Artists such as Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie are among the influences who add to the texture of Ellison's American tapestry. However, this is ultimately a play that is laden with the intensity of serious, dramatic vignettes, some of which are meant to discomfit. It is possible to feel the audience virtually tense their shoulders or shrink in their seats on a couple of occasions when the house lights come up and the fourth wall comes down. This is theater in the raw and there's no escaping what we are meant to confront. Message received.
Photo credit: T. Charles Erickson (The cast of Invisible Man)