BWW Reviews: The Black Rep's Artful Production of THE REAL MCCOY

I always consider it a rewarding experience when you go to see a play and you actually learn something along the way. In the case of playwright Andrew Moodie's work, The Real McCoy, we're treated to a biographical account of forgotten black inventor Elijah McCoy (1844-1929). It's an intriguing and engrossing story, and when you begin to realize the obstacles this highly intelligent individual faced, it's even more compelling. The Black Rep has constructed an artful production based on the playwright's original staging, and it's a brilliant presentation deserving of your attendance.

Elijah McCoy studied Engineering in Scotland, and then traveled back to Canada and America where he worked for the railroad. He toiled mostly as a fireman and oiler on the rails, until his talent for inventing simple solutions to complex problems was finally recognized with the creation of a self-lubricating device that allowed the steam engines of the time to run without having to make frequent stops to oil the machinery. Throughout his lifetime, and despite the considerable heartache he endured after losing two wives, McCoy produced more patents than any other black inventor of his era, and revolutionized the railways in the process.

Ka'ramuu Kush delivers a solid performance as the mature Elijah, attempting to maintain a clinical facade in order to keep his emotions under control so that can he see the answers to his problems more clearly, but not above bearing his soul emotionally when tragedy and circumstance overwhelm him. Kush guides the action, narrating and taking part with barely a pause in the transition between them.

Kush is aided by a fabulous supporting cast who all take on a variety of roles, some completely contrasting in nature and disposition. Antonio Fargas does strong work as George McCoy, who's rightfully proud of his son, until Elijah's scientific views begin to openly clash with George's deeply rooted religious beliefs and he cuts off all contact. Monica Parks is terrific as Elijah's mother, his inspirational first wife who sadly succumbs to illness, and his mouthy housekeeper Gertrude.

Chauncey Thomas portrays the young Elijah in decent fashion, but is most memorable as Don Bogie, a black man who helps Elijah get a job when the white owners of the railroad reject him outright. Sharisa Whatley tackles a variety of roles with aplomb, but is especially effective as Elijah's second wife, Mary Eleanora Delaney. Whit Reichert and Alan Knoll add immeasurably to the proceedings by playing everyone else involved in the story, and provide the occasional bit of comic relief as well.

Stage manager Tracy D. Holliway-Wiggins is credited with "staging" this production, but even if you're only re-creating someone else's staging, you still have to guide the actors through their movements and their motivations, so you wind up essentially directing them. And since this production hangs together pretty well dramatically, I'd say Holliway-Wiggins does a remarkable job directing this unusual show.

Alex Van Blommestein's scenic design features a raked stage that could symbolize the uphill battle for recognition faced by the protagonist. Blommestein also flanks the actors with sculptural pieces that suggest and reflect the railway setting. Jennifer Krajicek's costumes have the right look and feel for the characters and the period, and Mark Wilson's lighting design also adds to the mood and atmosphere of the show. Uncredited projections are also used to good effect to show blueprints of patented inventions by McCoy.

The origin of the phrase "the real McCoy" may remain in question, but one thing is certain, the Black Rep's presentation of The Real McCoy is the genuine article; a smart and engaging production that enlightens and informs. The Real McCoy continues through April 10, 2011 at the Grandel Theatre.

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From This Author Chris Gibson


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