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Beate Hein Bennett


February 1 - February 18, 2018
Theater for the New City (Community Space), 155 First Avenue (at E. 10th Street)
Presented by Theater for the New City in association with The Anderson & Bert Cade Fulton Foundation
Thurs – Sat @ 8:00 PM, Sundays at 3:00 PM
$18 General admission: Box Office (212) 254-1109; www.theaterforthenewcity.net
Reviewed by Beate Hein Bennett February 4, 2018

TAKE MY DAUGHTER'S LOVE CHILD AWAY -- Alicia Foxworth as LaTessa (left), and Stan buturla asthe planter, Charles Oliver Stewart III (right).

Playwright and composer Andrea J. Fulton unearthed a part of her own family history that is also an important part of the human landscape of America. Long repressed and unappreciated is the fact that European immigrants, African slaves and Native Americans have intermingled through sexual relationships, whether based on love, rape, or convenience, for as long as these populations have lived side by side. However, miscegenation was illegal in many states far into the 20th century; defiance or even the suspicion of interracial relations ended for a black man often fatally and for a white woman with social ostracism.

ULTIMATELY, HE MEETS HIS FATHER -- Brian Christopher Scott as Waldemar (left), and Justin L. Foster as Charley Cade (right).

"One Drop," set in rural Louisiana during the mid-to-late 1800s , follows a 25 year trajectory of Charley Cade, the love child between Waldemar, a young black man of mixed race descent, and Angelise, the headstrong fifteen year-old daughter of Charles Oliver Stewart, III, a white wealthy widower and owner of a strawberry plantation. The play is structured like an epic folk tale and enriched with original music. Short scenes and songs depict serious issues behind the romantic tale: the conflict, pain, and ever present potential threat of death caused by racial and class prejudice; the problem of identity for a person who can pass for white but is categorized as black, resulting in rejection by both races; and the proverbial selfless love of the black woman who raises the child that is not her own like her own. Andrea J. Fulton brings to the stage several familiar tropes from 19th century Southern plantation life—some a bit too romantic, some with a 20th century perspective: the seemingly jovial relationship between white master class and black servant class—the blacks in this play are apparently not slaves but work around the plantation; the humorous relationship among black women and their wayward men-folk; the competitive but friendly verbal jousting among the black women-folk while sitting together shucking beans and rolling biscuit dough; and the tall tales shared among young males while whittling a piece of wood. Within those tropes, however, Ms. Fulton embeds the American racial malaise at the core of its racially mixed history. This is what drives the dramatic energy of the play.

DaisyLee H. Sprauve as Edna (left), Denise Fair Grant as Norma Jean Thibodaux (left middle), Alicia Foxworth as LaTessa (right middle), and Illona S. Dixon as Lula Mae (right).

The set by Litza Colon and Mark Marcante with lighting and sound design by Duane Pagano create with simple means the various environments—the dominant veranda and interior of the plantation house, a part of a cabin on stage left, and a seafood store at the end. The director, Sabura Rashid and choreographer, Leslie Dockery, are adept at moving the cast through the varied spaces, using at times the aisles along the audience for entrances. Simple attractive period costumes designed by Carolyn Adams enhance the visual effect. Special mention must be made of the live orchestra downstage in costume— harmonica (Jason Stein), violins (Jacqueline Coston & Bremman Burgos), guitar & bass (Bria Barfield & Javier Guerrero) , a trumpet (Robert James Scarpulla), and very interesting organic percussion (Guy Y. Barfield). They accompany and respond to the actions on stage creating a sense of authentic ambience for place and time.

Justin L. Foster as Charley Cade (left), and Alicia Foxworth as LaTessa (right).

Memorable among a committed energetic cast is the central character, Charley Cade, the love child, played with ingenuous charm by Justin L. Foster. He takes us on his journey from adolescence to young manhood, from suffering for his indeterminate racial identity to his own love for Emma Fejellia, the tri-racial off-spring of a white Italian father and a black-Native American mother and eventual owner of the seafood store.

THE WAYWARD DAUGHTER -- Amelia Huckel-Bauer as Angelise.

Lauren Marissa Smith brings a quiet simple strength to her character and is a good match to Foster's ebullient Charley Cade. Amelia Huckel-Bauer as the "wayward" daughter Angelise and Stan Buturla as her father, Charles Oliver Stewart, III have the difficult task to portray the rebellious Southern belle and the overbearing Master of the plantation. Brian Christopher Scott is the love interest, Waldemar Cade who fathers the child—after that he fades from the play until the end. The community of blacks include a comedic Ben Rowe as Garon "Could" and a trio of women in a lovely scene of mutual verbal "rassing" and "dissing"—all in kindly good humor—Denise Fair Grant as Norma Jean Thibodaux, the man hungry one, DaisyLee H. Sprauve as “proper” Edna, and Illona S. Dixon (also musical director) as Lula Mae who tries to get her man with her corn bread.

Alicia Foxworth as LaTessa (left), and Ben Rowe as Garok, aka, Could (right).

Last not least, the character who truly holds the play together is the black nanny LaTessa, a courageous big-hearted woman whose intelligence and moral stature towers above all others. She is played by magnificent Alicia Foxworth whose sense of humor, physical agility, and strong stage presence centers this expansive story. She is central to two scenes that take the play out of its straightforward frame—a funeral that in typical New Orleans ("N'awlayans") style becomes a raucous dancing march with "Oh, when the saints come marchin' in…), and a surreal ghostly appearance after her funeral meant to help bring about the eventual happy end. Come to the play and you will clap to a hopeful vision of what could/should have been/is possible in "this best of all possible worlds," to quote Voltaire's Candide!


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