The North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre’s presentation of Bourbon at the Border, written by Pearl Cleage and directed by Natasha A. Jackson, is an important look into several troubling events in recent American history and how their effect lives on. It is a powerful display of the scars carried by a quartet of middle-aged African-Americans living in Detroit in the mid-1990s. The production is worth seeing for the history lesson alone, but there are many more reasons to see it. Do not wait, because there are only seven more shows over this and the next two weekends.
Starting with the positives, the cast is simply wonderful. Tina Morris-Anderson and Joseph Callender are stellar as May and Charlie, a couple deeply damaged by an incident more than 30 years prior while working to help blacks to register to vote in Mississippi. They are supported by Dr. Joy L. Bryant (Rosa) and Juan Isler (Tyrone), playing a pair of friends and neighbors. Tyrone is also plagued by his own demons from his service as a soldier in Vietnam.
You can feel the deft touch of director Natasha Jackson throughout the show. Although the play is filled with heavy topics, sprinkling in themes of mental illness as well, the first half is actually quite light at times. The dialogue is snappy and delivered so naturally by the cast that you actually feel you are there in the living room. There is foreshadowing of darkness on the horizon, but we really get to know these people intimately before the storm.
The story is not perfect. Things get trickier in the second half as the drama explodes. There are too many issues crisscrossing the stage simultaneously to deliver a satisfying dramatic punch. The monologues become longer and add drama on top of drama to the detriment of the story. None of this is a reason to pass on this effort by this troupe.
For language and complex social issues, I would not recommend this for anyone younger than high school age. But, if you have teens or entitles millennials at home, I implore you to bring them to this show.
My kids were stunned to learn that these horrible forms of racism happened during my lifetime. Many are still happening today. For just a little more than the price of yet another Star Wars sequel, you can share with your kids a realistic slice of African-American life and a chance to walk in their shoes.
Bourbon at the Border at NRACT will spur discussions about a history that they can actually relate to. I continue to be disturbed by the number of empty seats at the shows that I review. The Triangle regularly offers incredible valuable entertainment, and Bourbon at the Border is yet another example. Support local theater. Go see it and BRING YOUR KIDS!
SECOND OPINION: Jan. 21st Raleigh, NC News & Observer mini-preview by Melissa Howsam: https://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/article239447093.html.
The North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre presents BOURBON AT THE BORDER at 3 p.m. Jan. 26, 8 p.m. Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, 3 p.m. Feb. 2, 8 p.m. Feb. 7 and 8, and 3 p.m. Feb. 9 at 7713-51 Lead Mine Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27615, in the Food Lion Shopping Center.
TICKETS: $22 ($20 students, teachers, seniors, and active-duty military personnel), except $15 per ticket on Sunday, Jan. 26th.
Robert O’Connell is new to the Triangle, but not to the stage. As a playwright, he has had dozens of productions and awards throughout the world. He has an MS degree in Management Systems Analysis. A lifelong educator, O’Connell has also published three novels at http://www.flashmobthenovel.com/ and two humor anthologies from his blog, https://thesmartestguyiknow.wordpress.com/. He and his wife have settled in Cary, NC. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.