BWW Review: RAGTIME at Argenta Community Theater Sells Out Shows
Telling a story where multiple ethnic groups come together to form an even bigger story can be quite the undertaking, but the Argenta Theater in North Little Rock had no problems pulling it off with the magnanimous RAGTIME, on the official opening night Friday, Feb. 21. And according to their website at argentacommunitytheater.org, the fans agree, leaving Wednesday, Feb. 26, as the only date available for tickets....as of now.
Based on the 1975 novel by E. L. Doctorow, RAGTIME tells the tale of the life and struggles of the African Americans, Eastern European immigrants, and upper-class suburbanites of New York in the early twentieth century. The music Ragtime is introduced in Harlem with Mr. Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Jeremiah Herman) at the piano. His love affair with Sarah (Satia Spencer) produces a child, which she then buries in a garden in New Rochelle, owned by Mother (Karen Q. Clark), who is awaiting the return of Father (P. Jay Clark) who is on an exploring expedition to the North Pole with Admiral Perry (Byron Taylor). Throw in other actual notable characters of the turn of the century, and you have a very compelling story with some very moving musical numbers.
When the show is an ensemble piece, there are quite a few who stand out to move the story along. The leads prove they have the singing chops for RAGTIME, and it is even more impressive when there is a live orchestra. Co-vocal director Karen Q. Clark put so much heart into her song pieces, that as a mother, I too was feeling her struggles, pains, and convictions. Herman's Coalhouse was charismatic both as a performer and as a very angry man wanting vengeance. Even though Sarah tried to kill her baby, Spencer's performance made me sympathetic and forgiving for her actions. However, my heart went out the most to Greg Robinson's Tateh. His love for his daughter (Piper Wallace) was evident and consistent throughout the show. Robinson's gentleness drew the audience in making them root for his success.
There were other notable characters that lightened the mood a bit. Claire Rhodes' Evelyn Nesbit was very cheeky in her song "The Crime of the Century," and though Shleton Harden's Grandfather wasn't a main character, he made me laugh during the ones that he was in. Monica Clark-Robinson's Emma Goldman made me want to join whatever cause she was leading; Matthew Sewell's bad guy Willie Conklin made me want to hang him myself; and I also enjoyed the chemistry between Little Girl Wallace and Little Boy Walt Wenger-his expressions on his face got me everytime!
Of course, credit also goes to Director Vincent Insalaco and his team (Becky Goins-Co-Music Director, Sara Cooke-Technical Direction, Jim Brewi-Set Design, Shelly Hall-Costume Design, Case Dillard-Choreographer, and many more) for putting on another fabulous show. Though the Argenta is celebrating it's 10-year anniversary, it would be believable that they've been around much longer. The shows coming from this venue is professional quality, which is why it sells out almost every show.
To learn about upcoming productions or to join this theater family, visit their website at argentacommunitytheater.org, for more information.