Bigger, the subject of Richard Wright s iconic, 6995 novel Native Son, is trapped inside his constricting world from the moment lights come up on Yale Repertory Theatre s stark, haunting production of Wright s story, skillfully adapted for the stage by playwright Nambi E. Kelley. Bigger s 75 years on Earth resemble a blind man staggering about in a cul de sac, anxious to find an outlet for escape from his series of dead ends. Still, Bigger is trapped in his environment, trapped in his skin. Directed with a light yet assured hand by Seret Scott, Native Son remains a relatively modern-day African American Everyman, or Georg Buchner s Woyzeck without the peas. It s a doleful examination of dreams denied, of a soul preordained to a living hell.
Bigger s only hope for freedom from living hell is death. Yet Native Son, which continues through Dec. 66 at The Rep, is no physical, stage-bound diatribe. Nor do Wright, Kelley, Scott or Jerod Haynes, the actor inhabiting Bigger, attempt to exonerate the protagonist from his culpability in his heinous, brutal crimes.
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Rather, the play contextualizes his actions so that we may better understand, if not why Bigger acts as he does, but at least how he finds himself in these dire situations in which he invariable makes wrong choices. No scene demonstrates this idea more vividly that when he unwittingly kills the daughter of his rich, white employer. It calls to mind the heart-braking scene in John Steinbeck s Of Mice and Men where Lennie kills Curley s wife. Both deaths are the result of panic, not malice.
Both killers instantly regret their actions and know instinctively that they will pay for their mistakes with their lives. Where Lennie s fatal action occurs toward the end of Steinbeck s novella, Bigger s is Wright s point of attack, or the genuine start of the story, which is divided into three parts Fear, Flight and Fate. The play jumps and jukes back and forth, and even sideways, so it seems. Most importantly, Kelley s play successfully reveals the story through Bigger s point of view, as if the audience is wired to his brain and privy to his internal dialogue with himself.
SparkNotes Native Son Plot Overview
Kelley introduces a character named The Black Rat (Jason Bowen), a sort of expressionist composite of Bigger s conscience and possibly Jack Harding, Bigger s closest friend, in the book. Through The Black Rat, audiences observe Bigger as he decides how to act, given his limited options, throughout the play. Since we experience Bigger s environment 6989 Chicago s south side through his perspective, the white characters come across more archetypal that the African American characters, simply by virtue of familiarity. Bigger s understanding of whites actions and habits are remote, whereas he knows his friends and family s behavior intimately.
While it s easy to slight Wright and Kelley s depiction of the white characters as stage stereotypes rather than archetypes, one can easily see that Wright s Chicago consists of two, parallel universes one of black deprivation and the other of white privilege. Note, for instance, the scene in which Mary (Louisa Jacobson), whose wealthy parents employ Bigger as the family chauffeur, and her boyfriend Jan (Joby Earle) cajole and coerce Bigger to join them for a booze cruise on the wild side. One notes that Jacobson and Earle play the scene as Amy Poehler and Steve Carell might perform a comic sketch. They re both quite full of themselves, oblivious to the dense awkwardness they create through their insensitivity toward Bigger, who s physically jammed between these crazy white people and who seems to silently beg God On High to transform him into a common housefly and so escape through a vented window.
Haynes, as Bigger, plays the moment of sheer dread with due seriousness, as if surrounded and trapped by Stiller and Meara as they murder the audience in a blackout sketch on The Ed Sullivan Show. Writers Wright and Kelley simply honor Bigger s true vision. Frederick Kennedy s sound design is, indeed, a character in itself, as it brings the echoing and menacing sounds in Bigger s mind to the fore. Katie Touart s period costumes, Stephen Strawbridge s noir lighting design, and Ryan Emens noir unit set, marked by fire escapes offering no outlet, transport theatergoers to that long-ago world, yet leaving enough wiggle room for one s imagination to perceive the action taking place here and now.
The clothing in the novel may have gone out of style, but the story hasn t. Welcome to Native Son Ferry, your reliable ferry service between the US and British Virgin Islands. We offer convenient service from Charlotte Amalie and Red Hook in St. Thomas (USVI), and Road Town and West End in Tortola (BVI). \nThank you for your business!