Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
During the early 1960s in Virginia, Rosa Parks is about to give a speech and four civil rights activists anticipate her arrival and message. Rachel (Chalia La Tour) is chief administrator. She is a strong, steadfast, committed black woman. She engages in conversation with much younger Abby (Dria Brown), who is doing some secretarial work and seems of another and younger generation. They are joined by a third African-American woman, Dee (Ashley Bryant), who feels passion both for the cause and for her family, too. Finally, Sarah (Bronte England-Nelson) enters the room and she is white; that speaks for itself.
Scenic designer Jessie Chen has posted many signs to a rear wall. They say such things as "Justice for Women" and "We Demand Voting Rights Now." During the first 25 or 30 minutes of the production, the women walk about the office and converse. When it is surmised that Rosa Parks will not be giving her talk, the tenor of the play shifts and tension escalates. Rachel is suddenly gone. Word spreads that some women have been killed far south of Virginia. Three of the women, Dee excepted, are motivated to participate through a "Cadillac Crew" driving experience, to integrate the South. During the course of the play, the characters question and hope that women (not only men) will experience civil rights gains as a result of the early 1960s movement work.
By far, the most galvanic moments of this play occur after intermission when Rachel, Abby, and Sarah begin a road trip; Dee decides to join them soon thereafter. Projection designer Rasean Davonte Johnson provides imagery of the journey as the women vocalize journal entries detailing emotions and reactions as they motor on. It's easy to feel totally caught up in the combined resonance of feeling and purpose during this visually arresting sequence.
Playwright Sampson does well to sculpt vital, powerful women who are individualists. She has a keen voice and her words accurately reflects time and place. She could, however, abridge some of her dialogue. That would make for a sharper first act. Sampson has elected, in addition, to break all of the action of the given period with a final contemporary component that closes her play. It is undoubtedly powerfully cogent. Whether this feels like a fit within the framework of Cadillac Crew is worth discussing. This piece might very well have greater value without the supplementary (speaking to the audience) finale.
The four fine actresses succeed with line delivery. The dialogue, within the context of the office during the early going, requires skillful timing as scripting moves from one woman to the next. This is successfully accomplished.
Thus, Cadillac Crew, personal and significant, is a play which addresses consequences. Will Rosa Parks' voice be quelled and what does that mean? Will four courageous women venturing into the South triumph as they seek justice? What are the implications and ramifications during this time period for future years? The playwright pushes those watching to ponder further and, given race relations in 2019, perhaps become more proactive in the quest for human equality. This is a show that might be developed further in order gain greater acuity. It is, after all, a new play.
Cadillac Crew, through May 18, 2019, at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel Street, New Haven CT. For tickets, call (203) 432-1234 or visit yalerep.org.