By David Walters
Angry at the death in Vietnam of her boyfriend, the character Gail (sparklingly played by Yasha Jackson) says, “Plenty of ways to die right here.”
It’s 1967, and Oakland, California has birthed the Black Panther movement, formed to counteract police brutality (sound familiar) and fertilize the Black is Beautiful bloom that is happening on its streets. Huey P. Newton, a co-founder of the Black Panthers, is accused of killing a white cop during a traffic stop. The complete truth about what happened that night was never fully realized.
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself as that is not what This Land Was Made is really about. It’s what colors it, as it’s about a family and a neighborhood and the people doing the living and dying.
Ms. Trish (exhibiting strength, survival, and love by Libya V. Pugh) has been running a bar, with a one-chair barbershop, and southern-focused restaurant (I’ll have some of the bread pudding, please.) while trying to raise a son and daughter. Her son went and got himself killed in Vietnam and her daughter Sassy (flashing her mother’s strength and self-preservation by Antoinette Crowe-Legacy) is chronicling everything as she longs to be a writer. There are a handful of regulars that stand in for the many customers, neighbors, and colorful characters that populate the neighborhood. Ms. Tish has about had it though, things are changing too much and too fast, and she wants to go back to Louisiana where things are slower, and everyone knows their place.
Huey (played with charisma and sharpness by Julian Elijah Martinez) comes into the scene, gets a root beer and a haircut, and talks up revolution and changing the status quo. Sassy’s boyfriend/fiancee Troy (played by Matthew Griffin, notable for the determination and vulnerability he brought to the role), trying to ride above society’s systemic racism, gets inadvertently pulled into the fray as Huey’s truth begins to bend the truths of everyone else and leads to that fateful night.
In an interview playwright Tori Sampson said, “Every great story is about journeying to find home,” this story illustrates that truth as great events play out on the everyday people in her play.
As Gail said, “Plenty of ways to die right here. Plenty of ways to live, too.”
The This Land Was Made is written by Tori Sampson and directed by Taylor Reynolds.
The cast includes Antoinette Crowe-Legacy as Sassy, Leland Fowler as Drew, Matthew Griffin as Troy, Sean Patrick Higgins as Officer Heanes, Yasha Jackson as Gail, Ezra Knight as Mr. Far, Julian Elijah Martinez as Huey, Curtis Morlaye as Gene, Oliver Palmer as Officer Frey, and Libya V. Pugh as Miss Trish.
On the creative side, This Land Was Made features scenic design by Wilson Chin, costume design by Dominique Fawn Hill, lighting design by Adam Honoré, and sound design by Fan Zhang.
Running time: Two hours and ten minutes with one intermission.
This Land Was Made is the final show of The Vineyard Theatre’s 22-23 season. The show runs through June 25 and tickets can be purchased here.
As always, this is just one person’s opinion in a world filled with them.