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Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Native Son
Marin Theatre Company
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's review of Finding Neverland

Jerod Haynes and
Ryan Nicole Austin

Photo by Kevin Berne
Nambi E. Kelley has shrewdly fashioned an adaptation of Richard Wright's ground-breaking 1940 novel "Native Son" currently playing at Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley. This is a powerful 90-minute, no intermission piece of hardnosed theatre. This is at least the second stage adaptation of this uncompromising novel. Richard Wright and Paul Green adapted "Native Son" for the stage in 1941 and it debuted on Broadway in 1941 in a production starring Canada Lee. I read the play and this is more "in your face" theatre.

Native Son's plot centers around protagonist Bigger Thomas (Jerod Haynes), a poor, uneducated 20-year-old living with his mother and sister. He is shadowed by Eric Lynch as The Black Rat, a name metaphorically borrowed from the rat Bigger killed in the family's tiny apartment in the opening scene of the drama. The rat represents every racial smear, abuse, insult and typecast white society has leveled at Bigger.

Bigger is hired as chauffeur to drive the wealthy Mr. Dalton, his blind wife identified only as Mrs. Dalton (Courtney Walsh), and her daughter Mary (Rose Hallett). Within a few hours after Bigger is hired, Mary insists he show her and her Communist boyfriend Jan (Adam Magill) his neighborhood. Mary drinks a little too much and, returning to the Dalton household, Bigger attempts to deposit the intoxicated girl in her bedroom. Mary's blind mother hears noises in her daughter's room and calls out to Mary. Frightened, Bigger places a pillow over Mary's mouth to silence her and he accidentally suffocates her. To buy some time, he burns the body in the furnace.

Mary's mother has no idea what happened to Mary so she hires a private detective named Britten (Patrick Kelly Jones), who hates blacks, to find the missing girl. Britten begins to suspect Bigger, whose capture is inevitable.

Seret Scott has cast the production brilliantly. Jerod Haynes is magnificent in the role of Bigger. He gives an intuitive performance that borders on a mishmash of rage and terror. He skillfully plays the character with a creepy expression and a mysterious stare. William Hartfield is outstanding in the role of The Black Rat, the subconscious of Bigger. Rose Hallett is admirable as Mary, and Courtney Walsh is vibrant in the role of the blind mother. Ryan Nicole Austin gives a wonderful performance as Bigger's sometime girlfriend. Dane Troy is brilliant in various ensemble roles, from the little brother to the pretentious Mr. Dalton to the bent grocer. Adam Magill gives a pitch perfect performance as Jan, and Patrick Kelly Jones, who plays racist private detective Britten, gives a chilling sense of the character. C. Kelly Wright gives a wonderful performance as Hannah.

Scenic designer Giulio Cesare Perrone provides a stark wooden multilevel set in the background, richly outlined by Marc Stubblefield's lighting. Director Seret Scott gets the best out of each performer, especially Jarod Haynes, who is magnificent.

Bottom Line: Native Son is a fast-moving, powerful 90 minutes.

Native Son runs through February 12, 2017, at the Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave, Mill Valley. For tickets call 415-388-5208 or visit Next up is Jiehae Park's Peerless opening on March 9th and running through April 2.

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