Writers' Theatre presents
The Old Settler
Written by John Henry Redwood
Directed by Ron OJ Parson
Thru March 28th
Running Time: Two hours and forty minutes includes a ten minute intermission
Pimp steak, swamp seed, old settler, it's 1943 in Harlem, New York. The Borny sisters need to educate their new boarder to city slang for a hot dog, rice, and a woman in her forties with no husband prospects. Writers' Theatre presents The Old Settler by playwright John Henry Redwood. Leaving his South Carolina home in search of his fiancée, Husband Witherspoon rents a room at Elizabeth Borny's apartment. Also residing in the apartment is Elizabeth's sister, Quilly, recently separated from her spouse. Husband locates his runaway bride, Lou Bessie now going by the name "Charmaine". The Old Settler is a story of reconciliation with the past and present and the struggle between the familiar and unknown. This The Old Settler's prospects will be wooed with love at first sight.
As the "coming of age" late bloomer, Cheryl Lynn Bruce (Elizabeth) dominates the stage in her continual transformation from old to young. It's not just wardrobe changes. It's her actual physical presence that goes from frumpy to flowery in response to a young man's interest. Sassy Wandachristine (Quilly) sputters about wearing a girdle, sharing a party line, and burying someone in an ugly dress and bad lipstick. Shoot! She's hilarious! Kevin Roston, Jr. (Husband) is the confused country bumpkin innocently manipulated by his grief, desires and pushy women. Alexis J. Rogers (Lou Bessie/Charmaine) is a born-again city gal! Fast-talking schemer, Charmaine uses her beauty to access free drinks and entrance. These four distinct characters come to life under the masterful direction of Ron OJ Parson. In a pivotal scene with limited dialogue, Parson doesn't rush a character's conversion. He uses radio programs, lighting and traffic sound to show the progression of time and the extensive deliberation in play. Flawless!
In a show produced by Writers' Theatre, it's only fitting to focus on the writer. John Henry Redwood has written a powerful story of love and forgiveness. At the very mechanics of The Old Settler, Redwood's word choices are fascinating. Naming things gives control. Harlem has developed a neighborhood slang. Lou Bessie changes her name to Charmaine and Husband's name to Andre. Mother Witherspoon names her baby "Husband." Elizabeth becomes the other Bessie in Husband's life. Elizabeth calls "Husband" by name repeatedly. Sometimes, it's a supportive anti-Charmaine changing his name way. Sometimes, it's a creepy, pathetic pretend "I'm not a spinster" way. Redwood's seemingly simplistic word choices are much more complicated. The term "old settler" is used for its derogatory connotation. It's not that simple! By definition an "old settler" myself, I like to think Jennifer Aniston and I just choose not to settle.
Pioneering the out-of-city excursion, Maureen describes the show as "hopeful, heartwarming and sad."
WAITING FOR THE SHOW
We want to try a new restaurant in Northfield en route to the show in Glencoe. Traveling the north shore Green Bay thoroughfare, we do the Evanston to Wilmette to Winnetka to Glencoe to Highland Park. Where is Northfield? Unfortunately being old school, we have no GPS and just Mapquest directions. We call the restaurant and ask how we get to it from Green Bay. The not so helpful response is "I don't know Green Bay Road but it's real easy to find from 94." So, we settle on Glencoe's limited option, Meg's Cafe, 317 Park Avenue. It's just blocks from the theatre and serves salad with the entree. City folks appreciate that novelty!
The Old Settler's pictures by Michael Brosilow.