by Holli Harms

Bjorn DuPaty & Brian D. Coats, Photo: Jeremy Daniel

HOME. It’s a powerful word. Powerful concept. It’s our place of comfort, of safety and security. Our sanctuary for self and family.

It is the 1960’s and there are plans to build a a shopping mall with movie houses and restaurants,The Travisville Project. This project will make the town a better place for all to live, adding revenue through tourism, creating jobs and better lives. But, you will need to move out of your home, as they’re going to build where it stands. What does a person do? Take what money is offered for your home and go? And they – the businesses and local authorities – are not asking, they’re telling. Imminent domain. Surprisingly, only you and your neighbors will be displaced. You, the black neighborhood in this white Texas town. And you probably would have gone quietly as you have done most of your life, but a stranger has appeared in town and he is ready to fight the injustices put upon you and your neighbors. You’ve been a peaceful people. The peace kept in check by the Ministers Alliance. The alliance headed by Elder Alden Hearst ( Brian D. Coats), the old guard, who is phasing himself out due to age and health. Phasing into his position is Ora Fletcher, (Bjorn DuPaty) younger, eager, wanting to follow in his mentor’s footsteps, but also dissatisfied with the status quo. Elder Alden understands the idea of taking things slow, not upsetting anyone, but Fletcher is tired of this lack of movement, of the feeling that nothing has changed, still answering to the whites in power. These two actors play off of one another like perfect sparring partners, listening and reacting and hurting emotionally but never injuring, they have too much respect for one another.

The stranger, Zeke Phillips (Sheldon Best) , is demanding quick change. He is not being polite and correct, not understanding his place. And he is getting others in town riled up. And so both sides, those wanting to move forward with the project, and those in the way of it, take hard stances and someone will get hurt and families will divide and men on both sides will try again and again to appease and do the right thing.

William Jackson Harper has written a fierce piece of theater with dialogue that pops and sparks with humor and intensity. In Travisville, both sides of this argument are weighed in with intelligence and honesty. No one is a villain, twisting their bar handled mustache and laughing. No. These are complicated human beings. These are remarkable people. These are the tough ones, the ones who rise to the top, the ones we wish to call friend, family.

And the cast? Took my breath away. They are a warm evening wind, a hard thunder lightning storm, and a still silent night with memories to find. I do wish we had seen more of the women. Especially Fletcher’s wife Bethany, played by the outstanding Stori Ayers.

Steve H. Broadnax III’s direction is spot on. Scenes flow from one to the other seamlessly. There is no excess just constant motion to an end that will, if nothing, bring hope.

What a night at the theater.

TRAVISVILLE written by William Jackson Harper, directed by Steve H. Broadnax III playing at Ensemble Studio Theatre

With: Stori Ayers, Denny Dale Bess, Sheldon Best, Brian D. Coats, Bjorn DuPaty, Lynnette R. Freeman, Nathan James, Ivan Moore, and Shawn Randall.

Set design by Milagros Ponce de León, Costume Design by Suzanne Chesney, Lighting Design by Adam Honoré, and Sound Design by Shane Rettig. Production Stage Manager Lloyd Davis, Jr.

Get Tickets HERE

Running Time: 2 hours with 15 minute intermission.