“…and Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi” produced by Sound Theatre Company

Here we find slashing, biting commentary on slavery in the American south, but it’s wrapped in a mythological mist that clouds meaning and causes one to lose one’s way. I didn’t research the play before seeing it, and was confused about much that I saw on stage. It wasn’t until I went home and read extensively that it all fell into place.

But should one have to do preliminary study to fully understand contemporary theatrical dramas? I think not. That’s off-putting, and what a shame! This is such a powerful production dealing with one of the two great tragedies of American history (the other is our treatment of Native Americans) that it’s a play everyone should experience. Because of its surrealistic qualities I fear many will back away.

Lindsay Zae Summers and Sunam Ellis Photo by Ken Holmes

Among the numerous outstanding performers is Santiago who plays Demeter, the man who survives the lynching that emasculated him. In Greek myth, Demeter was the mourning mother of poor Persephone carried off to the Underworld by Hades. Santiago elegantly captures Demeter’s strength, her mourning, her wisdom. Lindsay Zae Summers is just right as Perephone’s stand-in here. Little black girl in white face, she is Santiago’s granddaughter living as the twin sister of Caucasian Blanche (well played by Sunam Ellis) with her white family (ah the lies we tell ourselves!)

Kathya Alexander as the great Mississippi River is a power! And Shermona Mitchell makes a most accessible Jesus. Actually kudos go to the whole cast under the direction of Tyrone Brown.

The production values are outstanding. Roughed out, back lit buildings made with a few boards nailed together suggest a war-torn southern town. A lynching tree composed of patchwork quilts makes one think of a long history. The open meandering central area forms a waterway for Miss Sissippi who moves along it singing her lamentations garbed in a hodgepodge of flowing fabrics in shades of blue.

This is a surrealistic theatre event with outstanding production values. Do the preliminary research and let it wash over you. Be moved by the pathos and bravery; be repelled by the heinous and hateful. But most of all be glad you live in an area where you can be exposed to this sort of intellectual challenge.

Through Aug. 2 at Center Theatre in the Armory at Seattle Center, (brownpapertickets.com, www.soundtheatrecompany.org).

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