BWW Review: MILLER, MISSISSIPPI at Long Wharf
Boo Killebrew's Miller, Mississippi, which is closing at the Long Wharf Theatre, is a play to put on your radar wherever it plays. This powerful drama of a privileged family takes place over a period of 34 years, and during one of the most tumultuous eras of U.S. history. To be clear, the play takes place in Jackson, Mississippi, and it's as much a hotbed for the Miller family as it is for the country.
The show opens with Doris (Benja Kay Thomas), the family maid and babysitter, telling a ghost story to Thomas (Roderick Hill), Becky (Leah Karpel), and John (Jacob Perkins). It's a frightening story about people who try to burn down a haunted house with blood in its walls, but the house rises up again. That story is a metaphor for the Miller family's own demons, which include sexual abuse, homophobia, mental illness, and white supremacy. Right after Doris tells the ghost story, there is a gunshot and Mildred (Charlotte Booker) enters to tell everyone that her husband, the respected judge, ate a gun. No one seems fazed.
There are two wall calendars on the set, and throughout the play, characters tear off the top page to indicate the passage of time. Thomas goes to college and then law school, with the intention of following into his father's footsteps (and not just in his career). Becky, an artist whose drawings are dark, gets drawn into the vortex of mental illness. John is an idealist who embraces social justice. After a stint in a psychiatric hospital, he follows Doris to her home, where she is hosting a Northern white organizer who is helping African-Americans become registered voters. John's interests clash with Thomas who, like his mother, wants to retain the family's social status. This includes pushing a reluctant Becky to prepare for her debut in society. As the years go on, more of the Miller ghosts return to life with a vengeance. I won't spoil it by revealing too much. Suffice it to say that this period piece is chillingly relevant today, even during the closing weekend when Virginia Governor Ralph Northam was pressured to resign over a 1984 yearbook photo that was racist.
Kudos to the creative team, which includes director Lee Sunday Evans, set designer Kristen Robinson, lighting designer Amith Chandrashaker, costume designer Oana Botez, music and sound designer Daniel Kluger, video designers Paul Lieber and Brett Banakis, wig and makeup designer Dave Bova, dialect coach Chantal Jean-Pierre, fight director Greg Webster, production stage manager Brett Anders, and Claire Zoghb for the haunting program design. As always, she captures the show on the cover - the dark imposing house, the cloudy night sky, and the typeface that suggests generations of skeletons in the closets of that house.
The Long Wharf Theatre is known for excellent plays, and this production is one of its best. Don't miss the rest of this season and look for more exciting shows under the helm of incoming Artist Director Jacob G. Padrón. The Long Wharf Theatre is located at 222 Sergeant Drive in New Haven. For tickets, call 203-787-4282 or visit www.longwharf.org and follow it on Twitter @Long_Wharf.