“I’ve been wandering a long time in someone else’s world,” laments Harold Loomis, the brooding, profoundly isolated central figure in August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. The same can be said for almost all of this beautifully poetic play’s vividly drawn characters—residents of a boarding house in Pittsburgh, Pa., whose lives intersect over a memorable two-week period just a bit over a century ago. Their intensely moving stories, beautifully told in director Phylicia Rashad’s production at the Mark Taper Forum, make for a truly memorable night of theater.
Images of dislocation are everywhere in this modern classic (which premiered in 1986), arguably the masterpiece of the late playwright’s 10-play cycle of the African-American experience. Loomis, who was held as an involuntary laborer for seven years even though slavery ended nearly a half-century earlier, is desperately looking for the wife who wasn’t there when he returned. Other characters are less focused, but equally lost. Pretty much everyone is navigating the uncomfortable space between two opposing worlds: the North and South, Christianity and traditional African spirituality, nominal freedom and the hostility of a white dominated society.
Through their tales, Wilson allows audiences to viscerally experience the pain and confusion of feeling abandoned and uprooted, as well as the catharsis that comes with “reclaiming your song,” as a spiritually inclined boarder puts it. Yes, it’s specifically a story of black America (full of soulful music and boisterous humor), but people of all races will find it easy to identify with these searching souls.
The superb cast is led by John Douglas Thompson, a frighteningly intense Harold Loomis, and Keith David as Seth Holly, the proprietor of the boarding house, a man who has made his uneasy peace with the white world (and capitalist system). They and their fellow cast members beautifully convey the musicality of Wilson’s unfailingly expressive language. This is a story of struggle, to be sure, but also one of hope.
Performances are daily except Monday through June 9 at the Mark Taper Forum in downtown Los Angeles. For ticket information, go to www.CenterTheatreGroup.org, or call (213) 628-2772.