RATING: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
If a play by an American black author has stood the test of time, it is almost certainly about domestic life — a palatable subject for white ticket-buyers. Durham, NC’s own Howard L. Craft reveals the lives of black workers in Orange Light and the Off-Broadway Freight: The Five Incarnations of Abel Green. He tells the story of black soldiers in Caleb Calypso and the Midnight Marauders, and imagines a black superhero in Jade City Chronicles Volume 1: The Super Spectacular Badass Herald M. F. Jones.
Even if white audiences cannot identify directly with these characters’ triumphs and failures, they can — assumedly — connect on an emotional level.
After a critically well-received staged reading last March, Craft’s The Miraculous and the Mundane has earned a spot on Manbites Dog Theater’s final season calendar — this time with a full production. If the makeup of the Friday, Jan. 19th, opening-night audience is any indication, this story is speaking to black women in particular.
As a white man in his 30s from Wake County, I can identify with many of the characters’ emotions: fear, resentment, confusion, etc. But I can only offer sympathy for the bombardment of actual pressures bearing down on this black family from Durham, NC.
I can identify with the frustration and despair expressed by Chloe (a confident Lakeisha Coffey), but can hardly imagine the familial and societal burden placed upon black women. Many of Chloe’s passionate declarations earned shouts of support from an audience hearing their own voices represented onstage.
I can identify with the guilt and fear expressed by younger brother Junior (a developing Amadio Perez), but cannot ever fathom the horrors of police brutality that he has witnessed.
I can identify with the loyalty that “Uncle” Bone has for his friend Percy. But Gil Faison, in a perfectly balanced comedic-dramatic turn, hints at a weariness that comes from decades of fighting for the rights and dignity of his community — a fight that I cannot comprehend.
Trevor J. Johnson delivers a stellar performance as the aging Percy. Johnson narrowly avoids the Angry Old Man trope and finds moments of great sincerity, especially with Faison. I, too, have experienced irritation, abandonment, and confusion in my life — but have never faced the trials of a black soldier and single father in the American South.
Director Joseph Megel stages his actors without ostentation, but the same cannot be said for the perplexing use of screen doors as set masking and insufficient screen for Zavier A.L. Taylor’s vibrant projections. The doors clutter and obscure the set, otherwise laid out clearly by designer Derrick Ivey.
Lakeisha Coffey’s no-frills costume designs keep things believable. Andrew Parks’ lighting designs are uncomplicated; and sound effects from Michael Betts, II are appropriate, but sometimes too jarring. Though some transitional kinks were still being worked out on opening night, stage manager Amanda Hahn, assisted by Cameron Graves, keeps things moving.
It is, perhaps, my own lack of understanding that led to the feeling that Howard Craft’s play spins its wheels at times. The dialogue often feels 1980s sitcom-like, and the constant winks to Durham feel forced and more than a little condescending.
Though the text of The Miraculous and the Mundane is far from perfect in my eyes, the cheers, tears, and standing ovation from Friday’s audience prove that the play speaks to people.
This play is not about me. It is not written for me or to me. Nor should it be.
My voice — that of white male America — dominates society in a way that smothers the voices of racial minorities and women alike, in art as well as politics. I’m going to take this production as an opportunity to sit back and listen.
NOTE: This play contains adult language and intense situations.
SECOND OPINION: Jan. 17th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-miraculous-and-the-mundane/Event?oid=10807869; and Jan. 13th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article194512549.html.
Manbites Dog Theater presents THE MIRACULOUS AND THE MUNDANE, a world premiere by Howard L. Craft, at 8:15 p.m. Jan. 25-27, 2 p.m. Jan. 28, and 8:15 p.m. Jan. 31-Feb.3 at 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $12 Wednesday and Thursday and $20 Friday-Sunday, except $6 Wednesday and Thursday and $10 Friday-Sunday for students with ID, and a $2 discount for seniors 62+ and active-duty military personnel.
BOX OFFICE: 919-682-3343 or https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?actions=4&p=1.
2017-18 SEASON: http://manbitesdogtheater.org/2017-18-season/.
BLOG (The Upstager): http://theupstager.wordpress.com/.
Joseph Megel (Pittsboro, NC director, UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Communication artist-in-residence and teaching professor in Performance Studies, artistic director of The Process Series, and artistic director of StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance): https://comm.unc.edu/people/department-faculty/joseph-megel/ (UNC Department of Communication bio), http://www.processseries.unc.edu/about (The Process Series bio), https://www.piedmontperformancefactory.org/leadership (StreetSigns bio), and https://www.facebook.com/joseph.megel (Facebook page).
Dustin K. Britt, a Triangle native, is an actor and director. He holds an M.A.Ed. in Special Education from East Carolina University and teaches locally. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment. You can find him on Facebook as Dustin K. Britt and via his movie blog Hold the Popcorn.