Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Noon Day Sun

I see at least 100 shows a year, but rarely do I walk out of the theatre feeling as uplifted as I did after seeing this provocative, beautifully acted play Monday night. It was the rare experience of seeing a production that is first rate in every way. Noon Day Sun is theatre at its transforming best.

Cassandra Medley’s play, under the insightful direction of Victor Lirio, is involving from start to finish. It tells the story of Zena (Gin Hammond), a young Southern black woman with skin so light she was nicknamed Snow as a child. Filled with grief after the death of her infant twin daughters, she walked out on her alcoholic husband (Ron Cephas Jones) and boarded a train headed north. As she was ready to settle into the segregated car, the white conductor saw her and told her she was in the “nigger” car and offered to escort her to one for whites. She hesitated a moment before taking his outstretched arm.

We learn part of this at the start as she stands on stage considering the turn her life took that day 10 years earlier. The rest of her earlier life is enacted in flashbacks over four days in 1957. In her present day we see her the wife of a white man (Michael McGlone) whose ambition has carried him from the Irish Catholic tenement world into a promising career in Detroit’s auto industry. He adores her and she seems to love him too.

Her contrived world is shattered on a "white hot day in August” when she encounters her first husband, to whom she is still legally married, working as a janitor in the hotel where she and her husband are staying on a business trip. She also learns that despite having been told she would never have any more children, she is pregnant.

Medley has written characters that are fully dimensional so we don’t judge Zena for the choice she made or the other characters for their reactions. “It’s my responsibility to get myself a better life,” was how she rationalized her decision. The characters are believable and their situations all too human.

Hammond is compelling as Zena, as is the entire cast, which is rounded out by Melanie Nicholls-King, Penelope Darcel, David Newer and Nino Spallacci.

Set and lighting designer Maruti Evans does a fabulous job of creating this world, doing marvels with only a couple chairs and tables. He presents past and present opposite each other through lighting that heightens the atmosphere of shadow and ambiguity central to the play.

Noon Day Sun gives human faces and human hearts to the issues of racism and the search for identity. My only regret is that it’s closing Saturday. I strongly urge you to catch this production at The Beckett Theatre in these last few days. Tickets are only $18 and can be purchased via Ticket Central at or 212-279-4200.

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