By David Walters
Home can be a refuge. People can be a refuge. Put both of them together and you’ve found safety in a place where you can maybe have the freedom to find yourself, even to your dying day.
World War II has just ended and Early (Nicole Ari Parker) is raped as a young woman and has a baby. Banished by her parents she winters over deep in the woods in a bear cave (after killing the bear) and comes out of hibernation to find that Crazy Eddie (Daniel J. Watts) is looking for her because he can’t stop thinking about her since she disappeared. He has abandoned everything that was his life for this search as he feels it is his destiny. They end up building a one-bedroom home in the woods with no road and no address and raising their son Walking Man (Jon Michael Hil). Early’s capacity to capture and kill wild animals with her bare hands does not diminish as she gets older and we can imagine that is where most of the family’s food originates. Walking Man learns from his dead grandparents (Lizan Mitchell and Jerome Preston Bates) that Eddie is not his biological father and sets off to kill his birth father. He sets off but is stopped on his quest when he meets the fetching Gail (Jessica Frances Dukes) as she turns his head and they end up going back to that house in the woods to settle in there and have a daughter of their own, Joy (Ngozi Anyanwu). Joy grows up and has a son, Ha-Ha (JJ Wynder-Wilkins), who is requested to go find a friend (Mallori Taylor Johnson) before his grandmother dies, which will be but momentary.
Now turn that story upside down and run it through the machine backward, lace it with a bit of magic, and you’ve got a compelling play of home and family. A place, despite the bickering and difficulties of life, to which we all either belong or long for.
Telling a story backward is a simple technique that keeps an audience guessing, continually having to put the pieces together as the spool rewinds. Looking at the same story linearly can give you an idea of the strength of the story that we’re being told. Playwright Nathan Alan Davis‘ story is plenty strong enough chronologically to provide a tale of family and belonging, a place where you would want to hang out for a good bit of time.
In three acts, that give the title its plural, the story is told by a dynamite ensemble cast helmed by Nicole Ari Parker as she ages backward 70 years assembling a family and home out of those who wander and get both lost and found in the woods. There’s a comfortableness with each character’s idiosyncrasies that the cast creates that draws the audience into the incredulousness of the play and provides an evening of warmth and belonging.
The Refuge Plays by Nathan Alan Davis, and directed by Patricia McGregor.
Cast: Joy Ngozi Anyanwu, Reginald Jerome Preston Bates, Gail Jessica Frances Dukes, Walking Man Jon Michael Hill, Symphony Mallori Taylor Johnson, Clydette Lizan Mitchell, Early Nicole Ari Parker, Crazy Eddie Daniel J. Watts, Dax Lance Coadie Williams, Ha-Ha JJ Wynder-Wilkins
The creative team for The Refuge Plays includes: Arnulfo Maldonado (Sets), Emilio Sosa (Costumes), Stacey Derosier (Lighting), Marc Anthony Thompson (Original Music and Sound), Imani Uzuri (Composer and Vocal Soundscapes), and Paloma McGregor (Movement Coordinator).
The Refuge Plays at the Laura Pels Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (111 West 46th Street). This is a limited engagement through Sunday, November 12, 2023. TICKETS
Please don’t let this scare you off, but the run time for The Refuge Plays is approximately 3 hours and 20 minutes, with 2 intermissions. Well worth your time.
As always, this is just one person’s opinion in a world filled with them.