Goin’ South


No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs


Written by John Henry Redwood

Directed by Stephanie Barton-Farcas

Nicu’s Spoon

Spoon Theatre, 38 West 38th Street

Equity Showcase (through July 27, 2008)

Review by Michael D. Jackson


John Henry Redwood’s social drama had its New York premier in 2001 and is back in a humble production by Nicu’s Spoon. This play of historical fiction has always been troubled, but it also contains meaty material that can make for great performances if only the right actors could control its fractured and melodramatic world. For Nicu’s Spoon, two actors, Pamela O. Mitchell as Mattie and Patrick Mitchell as Rawl, try valiantly indeed, but they are not able to save the production from many other problems.


The play concerns a poor black family of four in 1949 North Carolina. The play is at its best when exploring the interrelationships between family members: mother, father and two daughters (Aaliyah Miller as Joyce and Skai Konyha as Matoka). Into their little world comes Yaveni (Russell Waldman), a Russian-born Jew and scholar who, for some reason, has come to town to research a book about the similarities between the plight of African Americans and Jews. Somehow the point is supposed to be that prejudice towards any group of people is equally wrong and therefore a brotherhood of the oppressed can exist between the two minorities. On some level this ought to be true, but as is also pointed out, Yaveni is still a white man and represents the black family’s historical oppressor. This aspect of the play is not very successful.


The more successful story line is about the mother, Mattie, getting raped by a white man while her husband is out of town working to support the family. She knows that if her husband were to know the whole truth, he would get himself killed trying to kill the white man who raped her. Instead, she swears her daughters and Yaveni to secrecy and lets her husband believe she had an affair. Although this causes the family to separate, Matti believes she can eventually prove her love to her husband and bring the family back together.


Included in the story is a ghostly character known as Aunt Cora (Dana Jones), who wanders through the play without any lines, only singing and humming “Amazing Grace.”  Her story is told to us in a long monologue by Mattie, that she too once suffered a rape, but until the end of the play, which won’t be revealed here, she is only a confusing character and finally rescues the situation like a melodrama hero showing up at that last moment to right the wrongs and tidy up the play for a  convenient ending.


The pace of this play is a bit relaxed as written, but director Barton-Farcas did little to move the show along. Direction feels loose and unfocused. The movement of the story felt interminable until reaching the handful of really good dramatic scenes. Gabrielle Montgomery’s set is basic, barely depicting the front porch of the family’s home. It looks improbably poor, even for this family, with a drape of cloth for a door as if the family were struggling through the slave years. No single person is given credit for the costumes and they serve well enough, save for the confusing garb worn by Patrick Mitchell as Rawl. He is in modern jeans, a white v-neck t-shirt and barefoot. He never changes from this outfit and even goes off on his trip barefoot and without at least a small satchel of belongings. Lighting by Julia Berman served the play well under limited conditions. But, overall there was a general carelessness of completing basic details that lowered the production value considerably.


Nicu’s Spoon has been capable of presenting some very fine productions, finding solutions to the many creative challenges faced by limited resources of the off-off Broadway world, but they could not rise to the occasion this time around.


Box Score:


Writing: 1

Directing: 0

Acting: 1

Sets: 0

Costumes: 0

Lighting/Sound: 1


Copyright 2008 by Michael D. Jackson


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