BWW Review: REPARATIONS from Sound Theatre Company Examines the Truth in Our Blood
What would you do if you could peek in on the memories of your ancestors? That's the question posed in the World Premiere play by Darren Canady, "Reparations", currently offered from Sound Theatre Company. In a play filled with thought provoking ideas and stirring performances, they metaphorically examine the history in our blood.
In a hypothetical, not to distant future, technology has come up with a way to unlock the memories within your blood. Memories not only from you but from those who came before. With this tech, Rory (Aishe Keita) hopes to escape her dead end life in Oklahoma taking care of her Grandmother Billie Mae (Tracy Michelle Hughes). By unlocking the memories of a massacre that befell her Great-Great-Grandparents, she hopes to qualify for reparations being offered from the government. But unlocking those memories comes with more than she bargained for.
Deftly switching between time periods, Canady as well as director Jay O'Leary have created a tight narrative that examines how what's handed down from our ancestors can dictate our own fate, as long as we let it, with the literal memories in our blood from the tech of the play, and the metaphorical blood in the form of circumstance that so many find themselves locked into based on their race or lineage. Canady's dialog comes across as incredibly natural and honest, only occasionally falling into the trap of repetition. But once in the trap he quickly extricates himself weaving a fascinating story of, not only, how our past defines us, but also, who owns that past.
The conveyance of the tech itself gets slightly muddled as some off stage dialog was unintelligible but it's a minor gaff especially when compared to the beautiful way O'Leary manages to keep the three distinct time periods as well as distinct locations isolated. With the aid of a beautiful lighting design from Tristan Roberson and a stunning set from Lex Marcos, O'Leary conveys the story quite well without ever hitting us over the head with it or with any kind of accusatory elements as they skillfully deal with issues of race and responsibility.
The tight ensemble is wonderful. Brandon Mooney, Allison Lee Brown, and Anthony Lee Simmons take on multiple roles in the past and present and nail each one as quite individualistic. Especially some fantastic differences with Brown's 1922 Naomi and her 1961 Young Billie Mae as well as Mooney's 1961 Jimmy contrasted with his present day Maceo. And Simmons' final 1921 scene with Brown will break your heart. Bharan Bikshaandeswaran as the government official in charge of the case, could project more but still manages some great moments as a corporate drone stuck with a tough job.
But this show belongs to the powerhouses that are Keita and Hughes. Keita's arc in the story is fantastic as she navigates Rory's journey through her own past and into her future. Her chemistry with the amazing Hughes is palpable. And Hughes brings in a stunning physicality of a strong, independent, elderly woman with severe health issues wanting to stay vital. But beyond her physicality she brings a depth and complexity to this woman who's been through so much in her life and wants to keep it all sacred.
The show brilliantly touches on several issues, race, history, obligation, and privacy, but in a stirring way where the issues are part of the story and never part of a lesson, making the audience come to their own conclusions. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Sound Theatre Company's World Premiere production of "Reparations" a provoked and enlightened YAY. A wonderful piece from an exciting new voice.