Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
From the Mississippi Delta
Also see Fred's recent review of Fun Home
The drama begins in the 1950s as a mother, living in poverty and called "Ain't Baby," nurtures and prods her daughters to set high goals for themselves. This woman then became a midwife who was known for her expertise; she could deliver babies even some physicians could not approach. She was known as the "second doctor lady."
No obstacle would be too formidable for her children. Claudia Logan, Tameishia Peterson and Erin Margaret Pettigrew, cast in multiple configurations, take on one after another in a series of characters (mother, daughters, and many others) as numerous vignettes tell Holland's Mississippi story. Phelia (thought to stand in for Holland) was raped when she was quite young, perhaps 11, and later made money as an exotic dancer. She also turned to prostitution in order to make money. She became aware of civil rights protests and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and committed herself to the cause.
Jason Ardizzone-West has created a floor-to-ceiling wooden structure, featuring many beams, spaces, and a staircase where all action occurs. Barn-like, it allows for a warm, inviting observation of each event. While Holland's Phelia became involved in social justice reformation, some people (it is speculated that white racists were responsible) burned down the building and Ain't Baby, the mother, perished.
Phelia was inspired to seek higher ground with awesome drive and zeal to further educate herself. It took her 20 years to finally receive her Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota. The presentation concludes on a jubilant note.
Director Goldie E. Patrick leads three gifted, vigorous actresses who perform with versatility and immediacy. And they sing, a capella, often. Blues or soulful standards such as "Trouble in Mind, "We Shall Overcome," and "This Little Light of Mine" add feeling and atmosphere. The music provides another dimension.
It's a meandering journey Dr. Holland experienced from the time she rented out a room in her "home" to prostitutes to the moment she achieves her doctorate and Alice Walker's poem, "Revolutionary Petunias" is referenced. The seamless Westport rendering is exceptional. The play requires understanding for its ensemble to fully embody a wide range of characters. Further, the demanding emotional range runs from devastation to euphoria. Again, it's imperative for those on stage to nail aspects of each character and to complement one another.
From the Mississippi Delta is educational, endearing, and brimming with talent. This work encompasses parts of three decades, culminating in the 1980s. Its value and relevance, this very day, cannot be understated. Resolve and resiliency abound through uplifting theater.
From the Mississippi Delta runs through October 30, 2022, at Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Ct., Westport CT. For tickets and information, call 203-227-4177 or visit westportplayhouse.org.