Stray Cat Theatre presents the area premiere of Nambi E. Kelley's 2014 theatrical adaptation of Wright's novel which features a searing performance by Micah Jondel DeShazer as Bigger.
Director Ron May has found an incredibly gifted cast and does exceptionally well with the time shifts and tones in the piece. He expertly uses scenic designer David J. Castellano's multi-layered set to effectively portray the numerous locales in the story, and the combination of Dallas Nichols's deep lighting (the pops of red for the murderous actions are perfect) and Pete Bish's evocative soundscape, which is a non-stop barrage of realistic sounds and moody noirish musical motifs, to keep the tension taut and steep the action with escalation and urgency.
As Bigger, Micah Jondel DeShazer exquisitely captures the fraught, frantic man who fights with the voice in his head. DeShazer never leaves the stage and delivers an agonizing, truthful and poignant portrayal of this man whose destiny seems to have already been chosen for him. As the Black Rat, Alan Johnson uses his deep, strong and direct voice to effectively evoke both the demon and the voice of reason in Bigger's head.
The rest of the cast are all very good. Brittney Watson is both inquisitive and reckless as Mary, the rich white daughter who proudly states that she's always been curious about Negroes, while Tayo Talabi portrays Bigger's girlfriend Bessie as being just as lost as Bigger is. Jamie Bauer and Joseph Kremer deliver fine performances as Mary's concerned parents, and Anne-Lise Koyabe is superb as Bigger's mom. In several smaller parts, Jason M. Hammond, De'Onte Lemons, and Brian Klein all deliver refined characters.
In the decade of both the acquittal of Trayvon Martin's murderer, the rise of the Black Lives Matters movement, continued cell phone videos that capture the horrible treatment African Americans endure at the hands of racist police and others in power, and most importantly the allegedly racist white individuals that seem to have discovered a newfound power with Donald Trump as their president, a play like Native Son is clearly still timely.
Stray Cat Theatre's production of Native Son has an exceptional cast and refined direction that deliver a vivid, truthful, powerful, compelling, incredibly thrilling and disturbing piece of theatre. While Wright has created a character who is a victim of his own world, a man who is defined by the actions the world around him have inflicted upon him, I just wish Bigger's plight were less bleak, with a glimmer of hope or some form of empathy so it could have even more resonance. But maybe it's just as important to realize that Bigger's tragic predicament is not only something that happened 77 years ago but will continue over and over again until we all come together to do something to stop it.