NY Theater Review by Sandi Durell
The South in the 1950s was not the place to be if you had a mixed racial friendship – white girl/black girl – you weren’t safe walking down the street together.
For Dee (Emily Skeggs) and Jamie (Trae Harris) – teens in prison when we encounter them in a sparsely furnished jail cell in 1950 – their friendship grows when the feisty Dee (who neither reads nor writes) sneaks into the ‘black wing’ to befriend the clever Jamie; not an easy nor smart thing for Dee at that time. But they eventually reach a pinnacle of friendship where they finish each other’s sentences occasionally even in rhyme.
As the play opens, nine years later in 1959, we’re introduced to the older Dee (Samantha Soule) and Jamie (Rachel Nicks), now close friends, who share an apartment (the cell doubles as such), and work as house servants for the wealthy folks in the area. Although being a servant is an easy thought for Jamie, whose mother spent her life in such circumstances, Dee had to be taught the finesse and grace while they role played in prison; one just doesn’t use a dust rag. No, the cloth must be turned into a flittering bird and its holder must curtsey and sing while dusting, showing their employer how much they enjoy their work.
The scenes revolve back and forth between 1959 and the former years in jail. The now older girls work tirelessly to earn enough to survive, encountering minimal love lives as they tell all, even the abusive details of male employers who demand more than a flittering bird – some well played humorous moments in the hands of the actors, finely tuned by director Caitlin McLeod.
Naomi Wallace has written a tough, disturbing drama, giving pause to racial and social issues, and a little too explicitly and, to some, offensively (some audience members got up and left), when it comes to the portrayal of sexuality. Surely the written word of the humiliations these women endured should have been sufficient to rely on without the visual shock value in the final scene.
The scenic design, that also includes stairs and metal walkways running around the space atop the cell, at the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center, is by Rachel Hauck with costumes by Clint Ramos and subtle lighting by Bradley King.
“And I and Silence” runs thru September 14th 1 hour, 30 minutes
*Photos: Matthew Murphy