BWW Review: Powerful and Biting WELCOME TO BRAGGSVILLE Comes to Book-It
In our current society where the issues of race and education are everywhere it's refreshing when a story comes along that still brings up those issues and provokes the conversation but without lecturing. T. Geronimo Johnson's book "Welcome to Braggsville" is such a story with its gripping story and vibrant characters and Book-It Repertory Theatre has brought that story to life with some outstanding young performers.
The story comes mainly from the point of view of D'aron (Zack Summers), a sensitive and intelligent young man from a small town in Georgia. D'aron leaves his tiny town and heads off to Berkley for college where he meets three other outsiders, the idealistic Candice (Sylvie Davidson), the jokester Louis (Justin Huertas) and the quiet Charlie (Dimitri Woods). But their friendship soon hits some obstacles when D'aron lets it slip about a civil war reenactment happening in his home town and the group decides this would be the perfect setting for a performance style protest. But their protest garners all the wrong kind of attention especially when the demonstration turns into a tragedy.
The topic of race is never an easy subject to discuss which is why this story by Johnson, as well as the adaptation by Daemond Arrindell and director Josh Aaseng, works so well as they simply and slowly dole out the points of the story allowing the audiences to use their own, often incorrect, assumptions to fill in the blanks before being shown how wrong they all were. Several times I found myself being led by the hand into one red herring after another fueled by my own misperceptions. It's a brilliant piece of work that can accomplish that without you seeing it coming. The one drawback of the storytelling device in the show I saw was the character of the Poet (played with heart and conviction by Naa Akua) as I didn't always feel the message of this narrator/conscience of the piece was 100% clear. But that's a minor qualm from an otherwise stirring show.
The ensemble is quite powerful especially the very grounded and vulnerable performances from the four leads. The sweetness and naivete of Summers just pours out of him but never becomes cliché or stereotypical. Davidson turns in a particularly raw and visceral performance of a character with whom you may not always agree. Huertas is equal parts hilarious and touching. And Woods starts off fairly quiet and "go with the flow" but ultimately morphs into a powerhouse and gives a quite biting monologue at the end.
"Welcome to Braggsville" may not always be the story you want to see but it's the story you should see. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Book-It's production of "Welcome to Braggsville" a thoughtful YAY. A strong and bold message told quite well.
"Welcome to Braggsville" from Book-It Repertory Theatre performs at the Center Theatre at the Armory through July 2nd. For tickets or information contact the Book-It box office at 206-216-0833 or visit them online at www.book-it.org.