Dominique Morisseau’s play, under the adept direction of Erma Elzy, weaves together the lives of two Black American women separated by over a century, yet united in their struggle against the institutional racism ingrained within American educational systems.
We attended Hattiloo Theatre with Black Theater Nerd for the regional premiere of Dominique Morisseau’s “Confederates.” This powerful narrative weaves together the lives of two Black American women – an enslaved rebel and a modern-day university professor – paralleling their experiences of institutional racism across centuries.
In This AUDicle:
- A Panel of Insight and Empowerment
- A Production That Commands Attention
- Direction and Design: Less is More
- Themes That Resonate and Challenge
- A Few Considerations
- In Conclusion
A Panel of Insight and Empowerment
Before the production, an enriching panel featuring esteemed academics, Dr. Lisa Lang and Dr. Ladrica Menson-Furr, set the stage with discussions on mentorship and the diverse paths to academia. Their insights laid a powerful foundation for the thematic explorations to follow in the play.
A Production That Commands Attention
The pay-what-you-want preview night revealed a production daring with intensity, intellect, and innovation. It wasn’t about eliciting tears but engaging minds, much like a gripping drama series where every scene is meticulously crafted to pull you deeper into its narrative.
The performances were pristine, saturated with commitment to character and a literal dynamic ensemble that elevated the story.
Jordan-Danyel Payne, embodying Sara with grace and conviction, was particularly memorable, her every action a testament to the character’s evolving consciousness. From the moment the lights illuminate her, we are captivated by her hands as she stitches her brother shut. It was so satisfying to see how much attention Jordan put into every moment of the opening, really this entire production. This cast did a great job interacting with the set authentically. Props are an important part of acting and people don’t always take them too seriously when considering weight and proper usage. Seeing how “heavy” or light things were did not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Ain’t nothing wrong with sticking to the foundation. We were in awe. Her delivery and manner are so dainty for this solid, flat-footed character.
It probably won’t be mentioned; however, there are queer themes in this production that are unconventional and speak to the complexities of sexuality and expression. It was surprising to see the displays of queer affection on stage at Hattiloo. Though the script laces this encounter with innocent curiosity paired unsure feelings, this moment was handled appropriately without losing the intimacy to homophobia or anything against, “natural”…whew. In reality, it a manipulative and cringy attempt from Missy Sue to wield her power.
While serving absolute BAWDY, Chasity Williams is a powerhouse political science professor as Sandra with a performance that resembled the brilliance an Annalise Keating or Olivia Pope. If you have met Chasity in the local theatre community, she is jovial and bright. Prepare yourself because Williams showcases a daunting transformation that is unrecognizable from her day to day self. And that’s what we call ACTING folks! She holds her power in this production relentlessly and never waivers. She does this while telling you no personal information, asking questions, and giving you lectures here and there. This character is intriguing. Hats off to you!
THE SUPPORTING CAST IN THIS PRODUCTION IS OUTSTANDING! They didn’t just play characters in parallel universes, they transformed each time they went back and forth between the two and not only that, THEY GAVE US CHARACTER ARCHS with EACH character. This production took skill and storytelling. The cast’s diction was impeccable, ensuring Morisseau’s potent words confronted everyone unobstructed. The dual roles played by the ensemble, particularly Robrecus Parker (Abner/Malik) and Annie Gaia (Missy Sue/Candice), showcased a fluidity and depth that transcended mere script recital to become a lived experience. The two of them were the meat in this sandwich of whose eating who.
Robrecus is a master of timing and delivery. We are not sure if he performs often, but we want more. His humor kept the show moving as Abner, but as Malik, he is moving as challenges us again and again to make our own decisions. His characters POV is a one we see often in our day to day lives. He screams discrimination while his professors pay close attention to him. You have to be careful making decisions in the production as an audience member because you could be on the wrong side of right.
Annie Gaia is very believable as a 19th century white woman after power and leverage while exploiting and manipulating enslaved people when she’s portraying Missy Sue. She is subliminally scathing as Candice. It really illustrates how some white women even in modern times navigate space whether they are in power or not. The performative ally-ship here is woven so well into the fabric that you barely notice the opps. Gaia is skilled at transformation in this piece. She does a great job of hiding whether or not she is the villain. However, you never dislike her. We never find out who’s the villian. Seemingly, everyone plays a part in destruction here.
Their transitions were effortless – not only in the dialect, but in the body, the tone, the way they moved, the motivations, etc. It was impressive. The body language is important and the bodies did the talking. The most notable actor for showcasing this statement was Angel Ceara! Angel is known for being a dancer, but here we have another example of a bonafide artist. The commitment in her body and how you can see every breath and you could tell she is fully immersed and intently listening to respond and react (which are two different things). It was a real treat to watch the power shift back and forth.
This production is FUNNY in an intellectual and witty way. If you appreciate dry humor, you will love this. It’s all about the comebacks and this cast was ravishing them. There’s a subtle, but not so subtle, mystery going on in the production as one woman tries to escape to freedom and another tries to live in it. The show is a great debate and everyone’s debating to win their respects, rights, and liberation. The stakes are high for every single person on stage in the past and the future. No one is allowed to play the background and no one does.
Direction and Design: Less is More
Erma Elzy’s direction was a masterclass in the power of silence and pace, creating moments of profound impact without the need for elaborate staging. The set’s minimalism, far from being a drawback, focused attention on the actors’ performances, proving that sometimes, less truly is more.
Themes That Resonate and Challenge
“Confederates” excels in its exploration of themes that resonate on both personal and societal levels. From the struggles of academic life to the broader questions of identity and progress, the play challenges us to consider our place in the continuum of Black history and culture. The dialogue between characters like Sara and Luanne about natural existence versus biblical teachings brought a nuanced discussion of black identity and sexuality to the forefront, enriching the narrative with layers of contemporary relevance. We enjoy progressive themes in productions.
A Few Considerations
The only minor critique lies in the set’s openness, which, while minimalistic, occasionally revealed quick changes. However, this did little to detract from the overall impact, serving instead to blur the lines between past and present, much like the play itself.
“Confederates” at Hattiloo Theatre is a rewarding showcase of storytelling, direction, and performance. It captures the essence of Morisseau’s vision: to highlight the ongoing dialogue between our past and present in the quest for understanding and progress. You will feel, ponder, and carry this story with you long after the final bow. It’s a reminder of the theater’s power to confront, comfort, and inspire.
Dominique Morisseau’s work, brought to life by a cast and crew of remarkable talent, is a must-see for anyone invested in the journey of Black art and the questions of identity, freedom, and love. It’s a dialogue we’re all invited to join, and one that Hattiloo Theatre facilitated well.
Go see Confederates at Hattiloo Theatre February 2nd – 25th!
Tell them AUD sent you!