In creating Bigger Thomas as the face of the Negro stereotype and the voice of this ineffable despair, Richard Wright's 1940 novel NATIVE SON aimed to spark a conversation about race in America, to reveal the wounds created by the perpetuation of this disease called otherness. Over 75 years later, the conversation goes on, begging still for the level of clarity and candor that might move a nation beyond racism.
Nambi E Kelley's expressionist adaptation of Wright's work into a ninety-minute one-act roller coaster of electrifying emotion is a timely and provocative contribution to the conversation. In the directorial hands of Ron May, Stray Cat Theatre's current production of NATIVE SON offers an unnerving and intense portrayal of Bigger Thomas's downward spiral set against David J Castellano's dour urban landscape. May's choreographic sensibility manages to take what might otherwise feel like chaotic scene shifts and weaves the sequences into a comprehensive and comprehensible whole.
Kelley's script begins in medias res with Bigger's unintentional suffocation of his white employer's daughter and pivots between flashbacks to life with his family and his breathless flight from the authorities. Bigger (played with fury by Micah Jondel Deshazer) is a soul on fire, bereft of hope, seething with frustration and anger, sexual and desperate, and in an endless state of panic. Along the way, he is shadowed by an alter ego, Black Rat (cool and smooth talking Alan Johnson), a street savvy counsel and a candid counterpoint to Bigger's reflections.