Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Washington Crosses the Delaware As Never Before
Also see Bob's review of Psycho Beach Party
The dreadful physical conditions that Washington and his troops faced on this freezing, storm-ridden night of December 25, 1776, and the importance of the crossing are presented and give the play needed ballast. Still, ultimately, Duck Crossing is a light comic melodrama. The play is filled with politically correct clichés. A Native American, a slave and a woman save the troops from the destructive efforts of two white males: one a traitor, the other a buffoon. Such characters still have the power to stir us even though they raise their own questions regarding prejudice.
As General Washington, Brian Sutherland has to mouth Wooten's most preachy and artificial lines. All he can do is fulminate at the melodramatic and comic situations which develop. Sutherland performs ably, maintaining a depressed, steadfastly serious, often angry demeanor. After telling his inept nephew to jump up and down in the boat in order to free it from the ice (and it is true, historically, that such was actually done), Washington adds, "The fate of the Republic rests on it." I could not tell you whether that line is meant seriously or if it is intentionally meant to be funny.
The villain of the piece is Lt. Spill, Washington's disloyal new aide-de-camp. Gary Littman effectively portrays the elitist, traitorous and racist Spill. Wooten's Spill is someone whom we love to hate. However, in view of Spill's hidden agenda, it is not likely that he would be so openly reprehensible. Korey Jackson inspires trust and admiration as Washington's slave, the invaluable William Lee. The issue of slavery is only lightly brushed upon. Much of Duck Crossing's humor is in the hands of Kevin Gilbert, as Washington's foolish nephew George who is known as "King" because of his reputed resemblance to England's King George. It is a well modulated comic performance which draws all the inherent humor in the role.
Christopher Oden is stalwart as the loyal boat captain, Blackler. A.O. Moore is particularly excellent as the Native American, Russell, who brings special knowledge and skills to dealing with the ice and storm. Moore's fine performance superlatively kept me unaware of a certain bit of information until it was revealed.
John Wooten has adroitly directed his own play on a large stage which fills most of the flexible black box theatre. Joseph Gourley's convincing, effectively evocative, iced-in Delaware River is enhanced by the muted lighting of Nadine Charlsen.
The play's title seems to refer both to Washington's fear that he is a "lame duck" who has lost trust and will soon replaced as General of the Army, and to the formations in which Washington's soldiers attempt to walk across the ice.
Duck Crossing continues performances through August 2, Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m. /Sun. 3 p.m., at Premiere Stages on the campus of Kean University, 1000 Morris Avenue, Union, New Jersey 07083. Box Office: 908-737-7469, online: www.kean.edu/premierestages/.
Duck Crossing written and directed by John Wooten