Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Repairing a Nation
Karamu House
Review by Review by Mark Horning


Few people in America are aware of what is known as the Tulsa Race Riot which occurred on May 31 and June 1, 1921, in the highly affluent black suburb of Greenwood, Oklahoma, near Tulsa. The riot is considered one of the worst incidents of racial violence in United States history and claimed up to 300 dead, thousands injured, and 35 blocks of Greenwood destroyed.

The riot (caused by the arrest of a young black man on charges of assault on a young white girl) had armed mobs (black and white) pitted against each other while small planes piloted by whites flew overhead dropping incendiaries onto the roofs of businesses. This subject is what is at the core of playwright Nikkole Salter's work Repairing a Nation now playing at Karamu House.

It is 2001 and the Davis family has gathered to celebrate Christmas. Arriving at Chuck (Butch Terry) and Anna's (Rebecca Morris) well appointed home are Seth (Johnathon L. Jackson); Lois (Joyce Linzy), who is Chuck's sister-in-law and the mother of Seth; and Debbie (Jameka Terri), who is Seth's former girlfriend/fiancée. Chuck is president of a very lucrative Tulsa janitorial service company that he inherited from his father. He and his wife have raised Seth from an early age after Lois gave him up to them. Seth is studying law at NYU and is on the road to success, mainly due to the affluent upbringing he has enjoyed for most of his young life.

On the 80th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Riot, Lois has learned that a bill by Congressman John Conyers, Jr.—House Resolution 40 (110th Congress): Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act—has been put forth in the legislature for payment to victims and offspring of the riot. Owing to her financial situation, Lois sees it as a chance to finally get a financial leg up on life but needs Chuck to also sign the affidavit in order for them to collect.

Chuck has no need of the money, his wife Anna is in support of his decision, and Seth is convinced that the attempt will fail (in reality it eventually does). Debbie, who is working as the docent at the Greenwood Cultural Center, is the only other person in the house supporting Lois and in favor of signing.

Lois is a very willful woman who is not above shouting down those who disagree with her. She brings a Kwanzaa alter to the family's Christmas celebration and, although she all but abandoned her son years ago, she still insists on "ownership" of his affections. Come hell or high water, she is determined to get the needed signatures on the affidavit and she is adamantly trying to find out how Chuck inherited the janitorial service company instead of her late husband.

As in most families with strong personalities, nobody is shy about standing toe to toe against Lois and verbally duking it out with her. Over the course of the play fireworks erupt between Lois and Chuck, Lois and Anna, and Lois and Seth. When Debbie finds evidence in the cultural center's archives concerning Chuck's inheriting of the business, the gloves really come flying off and all hell breaks loose. Caught in the middle is Anna, who simply wishes for a joyful Christmas celebration and tries her best to pour oil on the troubled waters while those around her try to ignite the oil.

Butch Terry as Chuck expertly plays two converse personalities. At once he is a loving and caring father and husband to Seth and Anna while at the same time venom flows every time he catches sight of Lois. Johnathon L. Jackson is the reluctant focus of affection from all parties. His mom loves him; his adopted parents love him; and (worst of all) his reappearing girlfriend loves him—all of which has him burning with inner conflict. Jameka Terri as Debbie is the surprise invited guest of Anna who appears to be playing matchmaker, which makes for an awkward time for the former couple. Rebecca Morris as Anna is the perfect referee, hostess, and mediator until Lois pushes even her too far. The catalyst of the play is, of course, Lois, played by Joyce Linzy. She uses the wrong means to accomplish the right goals. While you can agree with her crusade, her methods leave much to be desired. Her biting asides are priceless.

The set design by Ben Needham is one of the most ambitious projects brought to the Karamu stage. The well-appointed living room with "outdoor" entranceway, kitchen and stairs leading to the all important slamming door perfectly depict the elegance of an upper class family living the good life. Kudos also to Marcus Dana for a superb lighting design.

Strong personalities clash as this no-holds-barred battle of the wits and lips unfolds before the audience. No need to mike the actors as this cast sends their voices clear to the back of the theater. While sporting an intricate plot it is an entertaining work that combines American history with a dysfunctional family. Recommended for mature audiences.

Repairing a Nation will be performed at Karamu House in Cleveland through February 26, 2017, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Show length is just under three hours. Tickets may be purchased online through www.karamuhouse.org or by calling (216) 795-7070.


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