BWW Reviews: CATF 2014 - In THE ASHES UNDER GAIT CITY, Old Sociological Problems Face a Social Media Conflict
Written by Christina Anderson and directed by Lucie Tiberghien, the World Premiere production of The Ashes Under Gait City displays an age-old conflict through the modern lens of our reliance on social media technology.
The Ashes Under Gait City focuses on a northwestern city in Oregon where citizens were affected centuries ago by a tragic fire. When the citizens rebuilt the community, African-American citizens were not welcomed and the population became largely ethnically-nonexistent. Popular internet sensation Simone the Believer encourages her thousands of followers to join her in the move to Gait City to reclaim and rebuild the African American community. Helped by her assistant, D, and new friends the pair meet in Gait City, a community begins to grow....until the age-old threat of racism and new combinations of technology and social media seek to destroy it.
As internet guru and YouTube sensation Simone the Believer, Daphne Gaines was a little too strong in her convictions and slightly impersonal. Simone, as a self-absorbed Internet sensation, is a difficult role to empathize with and Gaines did the best she could with a sometimes flighty character. Gaines' presence and passion was undeniable, though the characterization occasionally seemed flat.
Kaliswa Brewster was adorably sweet and open, but sharply organized and focused as Simone's assistant and former follower, D. Her onstage romantic chemistry with Biko Eisen-Martin as Jeremiah was both realistic and relatable. Eisen-Martin was equally believable as coffee shop worker and handyman, Jeremiah, who is pulled into the community idea by his growing affection for D and admiration for Simone. He is an extremely charismatic and charming actor and completely at ease on the stage.
However, the best onstage pairing in The Ashes Under Gait City was not a romantic couple. Shauna Miles as the landlord and Gait City life long resident, Felicia, and Willie C. Carpenter as USPS deliveryman, Clay, were the best aspect of the entire show and Carpenter completely stole the show. As Clay, Carpenter was hilariously awkward as tech geek extraordinaire in every social situation and also tugged on the audience's heartstrings every chance he had with subtle references to his awful loneliness. Miles was fantastic as the protagonists' no-nonsense landlord with incredible comedic timing. Her blunt, down-to-earth delivery was a welcome contrast to the sometimes lofty personalities in the piece. Miles and Carpenter as scene partners, however, were unbeatable. The spot-on comedic timing from both actors made their deliciously awkward scenes and witty one-liners even more hilarious.
Another impressive aspect of the production was how well the overarching theme of technology versus personal connection was evident in the scene transitions and set design. Multiple large flat screen TVs were mounted in patterns in two corners of the Marinoff Theater above the audience. Every transition and scene change in the show used the TV screens to provide plot information to the audience through the fictional Craigslist, Facebook, email and other social media posts from the characters. It was a brilliant concept that illustrated the underlying concept of how people in the show and in our society are so heavily reliant on modern technology and how many social connections are formed via technology rather than in-person contact.
It was especially interesting that the overall conflict and climatic moment of the show utilized both the onstage actors and scenes on the TV screens in a very ingenious way. The idea of threats made through technology versus violence in real life was brilliantly displayed and left the audience with a very stark, powerful ending which certainly made an impact.
The Ashes Under Gait City continues to run as one of the five plays in rotating repertory at the Contemporary American Theater Festival. The Ashes Under Gait City performances occur at the Marinoff Theater on the campus of Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, WV. The final performance occurs August 3 at 6:30 PM. For more information about the show schedule, the 2014 season or to order tickets, visit www.catf.org.
Photo Credit: CATF Media Gallery