Playwright Joshua Allen believes, The Last Pair of Earlies is worth the travel up north. We agree!

As Raven Theatre welcomes back audiences, the buzz about its world premiere of ‘The Last Pair of Earlies’ is that it’s a hit! Playright Joshua Allen, who transitions within two decades, 1921 Mississippi and 1939 Chicago, provides a dimensional view of a younger Wayland and Della Rose Early contrasting with an aged couple, dealing with life from two different perspectives.

Allen, who likens this play to a love letter, is a fourth-generation Chicagoan from the Southside, tells a story about characters intertwining his attributes and those he envisioned. Allen nicely weaved into the narrative of time where you witness the young and old Earlies on stage simultaneously, talking to each other in a somewhat illusional dream stage. The Last Pair of Earlies story centered on the migration of a young couple called the Early’s and a woman’s love for her husband, which ultimately caused her to lose her identity in his shoemaking dreams.

The lead character is a dream-fill, disorientated woman named Della Rose Early. During the early stages of their marriage, we witness a young Della, pregnant but determined to bring her child into a world divided by colorism. However, she suddenly has to leave home with her husband, Wayland, whose pride and determination caused him a sure death sentence if he stayed. Wayland’s trade was a handmade shoemaker, and he thought his Early shoes were superior to any other shoes. Furthermore, he made his shoes with love and care, which he believed was the main ingredient to having a quality shoe.

Together, with hardships and the hopes of a better life, they go north to Chicago, where Wayland believes their lives will change for the better if Della trusts him. However, Della still yarns for the past, dreaming of a field of magnolia flowers, and can’t escape the reality of her current situation. Standing in the window, with the expectation of Wayland’s return, she continues to dream about the days of her past, hoping she can one day return and find the true meaning of herself.

Seeking to get his shoes out to the public, Wayland has to travel; however, he had been gone for weeks. Della, who never leaves her home and bakes to earn money while Wayland is gone, peeks through the window anticipating his return, hoping and praying that this will be the day. Myrna, played brilliantly by Tarina Bradshaw, is a tell-it like it is friend that has her back but frustrates Della by suggesting Wayland is no good and not worth her time worrying if he will return. Della also has to deal with fighting off desires for Jimmy, played by Keith Illidge. He’s a smooth, good-looking country boy with a southern drawl that Myrna wants but believes Jimmy has his eyes on Della. Jimmy is ready, willing, and able to help Della with anything but gets a surprise when Wayland finally returns home.

The couples discover that time and the lack of success can hinder a young couple’s dreams of living happily ever after. As Wayland seeks to become famous for his shoes, he feels the pressure of living up to the man Della needs. Della, who has to come to grips with the loss of life, also wondered if leaving home, where she had the family’s love and safety, was the right move. As the hopes of this young couple fade, both are ready to make contrasting decisions that will change their lives.

Shadana Patterson and Marcus D Moore provided a phenomenal performance as the older Della Rose and Wayland Early. You could feel Patterson’s anguish as Della who suddenly realized that she was vanishing within her husband’s dreams. Moore was a dominating force that distinguished himself as Wayland. He was a proud man who desperately wanted his wife and friends to witness his success with his Early shoes.

One of the most compelling scenes is when the young Wayland, played by Jonny Morrison, and the young Della (Demetra Dee) deal with the loss of their child. I suggest having a few tissues handy for this scene. The Last Pair of Earlies will touch your soul as it reaches into the gloom of everyday life as we seek to find peace, a little slice of heaven, or just something we can hold on to that won’t disappear when we open our eyes.

Directed by Wardell Julius Clark, who is undoubtedly becoming one of the top directors in Chicago, he infuses his experience and knowledge into the direction of this play. His ability to bring scenes into focus so that the audience can feel the cast’s emotions is impeccable. His desire to speak the black experience is powerful, generational, and spiritual.

Clark understands that history hasn’t been kind to the black experience in America. American theaters have only allowed a few playwrights and directors to bring to the stage issues of racism and the struggles of equality from the black perspective. Still today, blacks grapple with seeking a better life and a piece of the American dream provided only to whites.

African Americans migrated north, and Chicago was one of the places where they moved to escape the hatred of whites against freed blacks living in the south. But, unfortunately, racism and hatred drove many away from northern cities that abolished slavery, but the Jim Crow South resentment was still alive and well. Blacks had to deal with redlining, poverty, and work and wage discrimination; that was even if they could find work. The plight of African-Americans in America from slavery to the present is still, without exception, invariably the same. We are still frowned at and looked upon as being an inferior race. And unfortunately, Chicago is still one of the most segregated cities in America.

Through trials and tribulations, blacks’ perseverance remained hopeful that “We Shall Overcome” during decades of being told they would never realize their dreams of equality in a white-dominant world. Like the biblical tribes of Israel, who picked twelve smooth stones to remember the Israelite struggles for freedom, Clark is educating audiences about the strength and resiliency that African-Americans endured throughout history.

The Last Pair of Earlies isn’t about shoes, nor what some proposed to be about marriage. Instead, it’s the struggles of trying to live a normal life when life was anything but normal for them.

Let’s Play Highly Recommends The Last Pair of Earlies At The Raven Theatre.

Raven Theatre
The Last Pair of Earlies
A World Premiere by Joshua Allen
Directed by Wardell Julius Clark
October 27 – December 12, 2021

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