Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Director/choreographer/co-author Thomas W. Jones II and composer/pianist William Knowles worked with novelist Ruth P. Watson to adapt her novel, "Blackberry Days of Summer," into a play about an African-American town in Virginia and its secrets, set just after World War I. The audience learns the identity of the murder victim as the show begins; the drama that follows delves into motives about motives, sparked by a dynamic cast and rolling with Knowles' gospel and blues melodies.
Herman Camm (TC Carson), a swaggering gambler, arrives in town and immediately captivates Mae Lou (Roz White), a recent widow with a teenage daughter, Carrie (Ayana Reed). However, Herman freely admitsat least to the audiencethat he is incapable of fidelity; both before and after his marriage, he's been having an affair with blues singer Pearl (Yvette Spears) while her husband (Duane Richards II) is away fighting in the war. The complications pile up and pretty soon it seems that everyone has a reason to hate Herman and want him dead.
Carson, with his rich voice and overwhelming presence, is the focus of attention whenever he appears. He keeps Herman from becoming a caricature of selfishness and duplicity by displaying a bit of humor through most (not all) of his actions. White is, as usual, an imposing presence, Spears gives Pearl both a steamy stage presence and impudent charm (and she stands out in Sigridur Johannesdottir's flashiest costumes), while Reed is earnest though a bit reserved, considering the trials her character has to face.
Jones' staging is fluid and stylized: a length of white fabric, held taut, represents a family dining table and couples simulate sex with no physical contact. The set design by Carl Gudenius and Shuxing Fan is sleek and malleable, with Alexander Keen's lighting design carving out different spaces on the stage and Robbie Hayes' projections providing scenic backgrounds and evocative images.