Circuit and GCT go gothic; Hattiloo essays Bayard Rustin. 

Blueprints to Freedom

Blueprints to Freedom

Justin Asher's Haint is a Southern gothic noir about life, death, and ghostly resurrection in the rural South, where gossip is corrosive politics and church is a gated community separating "us" from "them."

Inspired by rural legends about a woman who wanders the roadsides looking for her lost son, Haint introduces us to Mercy Seer, a caustic medicine woman who whips up home remedies, hangs jars full of memories on trees, and occasionally pretends to talk to spirits for the townsfolk in order to pick up a few extra bucks. She lives in a ramshackle old house on the edge of town with her son Charlie, who dies midway through the show but never goes away.

After being too long absent from the stage, Michele Somers makes an impressive return as Mercy. She leads an able cast that includes Marques Brown as an abusive sheriff, Amy Nabors as his frustrated wife, Evangeline, and Stuart Turner as poor, doomed Charlie, and Jo Lynne Palmer is in top form as a small town gadfly with an agenda.

Haint at Germantown Community Theatre through February 12th

click to enlarge Hand to God at Circuit Playhouse
  • Hand to God at Circuit Playhouse

Hand to God unfolds in a Sunday school room in suburban Texas. It tells the story of Margery, who's working through her personal grief by teaching teens how to reject Satan with puppets. She's a horny new widow doggedly pursued by a horny minister, engaged in a dangerous liaison with one of her horny young puppeteers, and emotionally ill-equipped to cope with her own horny, hurt, and clearly demon-possessed teenage son. Though sometimes compared to Avenue Q, because both shows contain foul-mouthed puppets doing shocking things, Hand to God is more like a mashup of The Exorcist and King of the Hill, all under the influence of Meet the Feebles.

Hand to God is a living comic book. It's a journey into mystery, complete with an ominous narrator — a gospel-preaching sock puppet named Tyrone. Humor and heartbreak spring from some really dark, genuinely upsetting places.

Jordan Nichols uses young Jason/Tyrone's split personality to really show off his acting chops, and it's impressive stuff. The monster on the end of his arm has its own independent life — a life that becomes more unique and vibrant in the scenes Nichols plays with himself. The play's best moment happens when Jason and Jessica (L.B. Wingfield) have the show's first real breakthrough conversation. It's a feat they accomplish while their puppets are having nasty sex and too distracted to interrupt.

Freaky stuff, and recommended. But not for the faint of heart.

Hand to God at Circuit Playhouse through February 19th

Blueprints to Freedom has its share of resonant moments. But, in this peculiar place we occupy in spacetime, nothing rang out in the theater like this four-word question — "Why do we march?"

Michael Benjamin Washington's ambitious portrait of civil rights organizer Bayard Rustin zeroes in on a singular moment in history. But what went down in the hot summer of 1963 didn't stay in 1963. The historic march for jobs on Washington, D.C., was attended by 250,000 people, creating ripples that still rock us today. The play is celebratory but conflict-ridden and circumspect. It shows Rustin, King's mentor in the ways of nonviolent protest, in exile but still the intellectual center of a coalitional movement grasping for unity.

American politics have always failed to account for class issues at the intersection of race and gender. Blueprints to Freedom is especially good at showing intersectional tensions inside the movement, with special attention paid to the predicament of being a minority inside a minority: women, atheists, gays, etc. The communist-affiliated Rustin had been to jail for draft dodging and for being homosexual, which made for easy propaganda and an uneasy relationship with Martin Luther King and other movement leaders.

Courtney Williams Robertson struggles to find his center as Rustin but grows into the role as the narrative unfolds. He is especially good in scenes where Rustin explores faith, not as a matter of passive certainty, but active process.

So, back to the original question: "Why do we march?" There are a lot of answers. The first may be to find out who we are. The second, to show everybody else, whether they like it or not.

Blueprints to Freedom at the Hattiloo Theatre through February 12th

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