Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Review of "The Boys Who Woke Up Early" by A.D. Hopkins - A Brilliant First Novel

In creating his intriguing first novel "The Boys Who Woke Up Early,"A.D. Hopkins has drawn from the deep well of his memories of growing up in Appalachia at the end of the Eisenhower era.  The title has a wonderful double meaning. Stony and Jack were two friends living in the southwest Virginia town of Early. While still in high school, they teamed up to form a private detective practice. I think of this work as The Hardy Boys meet "To Kill A Mockingbird," with a dash of "Tom Sawyer." The boys volunteered to help at the short-staffed sheriffs office. Through that lens, they saw the underbelly of the Jim Crow South, and eventually played a role in changing the nature of racial tensions and race relations in their corner of the world. So, in that sense, they helped to wake up the town of Early. And in another sense, they became "woke" to the realities of discrimination and prejudice at an early age.

As told through a series of adventures and misadventures, we see Stony and Jack learning to find their place in a backwoods world that was mired in old ways of thinking while the world around them was changing. This is a coming of age story - both for these two young men and for the town that they called home.

The narrative is full of tales of comradeship, moonshine, hunting, bullying, Klan rallies, domestic violence, political corruption, puppy love, and a feud that rivals that of the Hatfields and McCoys. The author has created characters that are both believable and relatable. I came to care about each of them.

This is a book worth reading. I look forward to the author's next offerings.



Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Classic Stage Company Presents August Strindberg Retrospective - "The Dance of Death" and "Mies Julie" In Repertory

August Strindberg
Classic Stage Company is staging an impressive look back at two of August Strindberg's best known plays. "The Dance of Death" and "Mies Julie" are running in repertory through March 10 in the East Village - 136 E. 13th Street.

"The Dance of Death" being presented is a new version by Conor McPherson and Directed by Victoria Clark. The title of the play has multiple meanings. Protagonist, Swedish Army Captain Edgar (Richard Topol), and his wife, Alice (Cassie Beck) are about to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. Yet it is clear from the opening montage that love has no place in this relationship, and the Silver Anniversary is tarnished. Edgar is literally dancing with death as his heart is giving out. And it becomes clear that the playwright (thrice divorced himself) sees dysfunctional marriage as a figurative dance of death. As the action of the play progresses, that figurative dance almost becomes literal as swordplay enters the arena. The cast of characters is filled out by Kurt (Christopher Innvar), a former lover of Alice and newly appointed Head of the Quarantine Station at the remote island outpost to which Edgar and Alice have been posted The addition of Kurt to the mix throws additional light and shade on the complex relationships among the three.

Set Design is by David L. Arsenault, Costumes by Tricia Barsamian, impressive Lighting Design by Stacey Derosier, Sound Design by Quentin Chiappetta, and Original Music by Jeff Blumenkrantz.

Running in repertory is Yael Farber's adaptation of Strindberg's "Mies Julie." The play is set in South Africa on the eve of the annual celebration of Freedom Day. The characters in the play are anything but free. Julie (Elisa Kibler) is the daughter of a Boer farmer. She was raised lovingly by the housekeeper, Christine (Patrice Johnson Chevannes). Christine's son, John (James Udom), and Julie played together as children and became friends. But as they became young adults, their expected roles were solidified - John as farm laborer, Julie as the untouchable daughter of the white land owner. Yet their passion thoughtlessly breaks through those taboos and they enter into a night of passion that fuels a desperate love/hate Dance of Death.

James Udom as John
Elisa Kibler as Julie
"Mies Julie" by Yael Farber
Adapted from the play by August Strindberg
Classic Stage Company
Through March 10th
Photo by Joan Marcus

The play examines the deep wounds of the policies of colonialism and dispossession. The farmhouse is built over the graves of Christine's ancestor's, represented by the ghostly figure of Ukhokho (Vinie Burrows), who glides silently through the action as a reminder that the racist policies and actions of the Boers haunt the present generation.

The play is sensitively Directed by Shariffa Ali, who was born in Kenya and lived in South Africa before relocating to the U.S. She infuses into this production her sensibilities to the complexities of social structures and strictures. The creative team include Set Design by David L. Arsenault, Costumes by Ntokozo Fuzanina Kunene and Andrew Moerdyk, Lighting Design by Stacey Derosier, Sound Design by Quentin Chiappetta, and Original Music by Andrew Orkin.

Strindberg plumbs dark depths in his plays. In each of these two works, it becomes clear that as individuals struggle to find their place in the world and within relationships, they fight forces within themselves and outside of themselves in their culture. Although the actions of these two plays are set in Sweden and in Africa, the lessons are applicable to the struggles we face in America in this century.

Make your way to the East Village between now and March 10th and see both of these fine productions.