About a week ago my family was invited down to Serenbe to see their latest production, Ragtime. If you’ve followed me long enough you know my son is an aspiring actor and is completely obsessed with all things musical theatre. I was fully introduced to this show last summer when Marshall did a staged reading of the show. While the music was great and the acting was wonderful, the experience at Serenbe Playhouse was completely different.
This story essentially has three main groups of people. Wealthy white people, Black people, and Immigrants. That’s it. Now, if you are unfamiliar with this show, you have to understand it has some very colorful language. It’s written in a time where racism is alive and well……(insert long pause). Yes. We’re going there!
While the immigrant families aren’t being moved into detention camps during this time, the search for the American dream reigns supreme with this group. Based on actual people in our nation’s history we are taken on a journey through the eyes of people who elected to come to this country to create a better life for generations to come in their family.
The Elite upper-class white family goes through their own self-discovery moment. I find it ironic that the family interacting with each group of people are not given names. They are simply, Mother, Father, Brother and Younger Brother. Their names are irrelevant.
Then we enter the group of people that literally take the wheel and drive the black experience in America home. They didn’t ask to come, but here they are. They’ve worked hard and found their voice in Harlem. This group is the heartbeat of this show. I’ll explain why in a moment.
A new approach to theater.
Brian Clowdus is one of those people that I often just sit and wonder what it was like to raise him as a kid? Like, to take a show that is heavily built on the tension of racism and justice in America and add an Atlantic City flair is beyond my regular comprehension. I’ll admit I was super confused as to why Evelyn Nesbit and Houdini were “main” characters in this adaptation. But honestly, it works. As our show guides, they lead us through tension, death, destruction, and chaos. The “idea” of Atlantic City being a city full of sin and secrets mixed into the fabric of this piece was brilliant.
A Mother’s Cry
The music of Ragtime is extraordinary all by itself. Adding a powerhouse like Nicole Vanessa-Ortiz is sickening. The ONE part of this extraordinary production of Ragtime that has stuck with me was Sarah (Nicole) singing “Your daddy’s son.” Any woman that has given birth to a child by a man she’s no longer with (whatever the reason) can fully relate to the moment you look at that child and notice some characteristic of their other parent. I’ve always related to this song having a son with a man I didn’t marry. It just kinda stuck with me “You have your daddy’s hands” has always been the line that hit me in my gut like; I relate for real. But this time, the words of this song hit a different area of pain for me:
“Couldn’t hear no music, Couldn’t see no light. Mama, she was frightened, Crazy from the fright. Tears without no comfort, Screams without no sound. Only darkness and pain, The anger and pain, The blood and the pain! I buried my heart in the ground! In the ground- When I buried you in the ground.”
Understanding the current climate of our country with states passing abortion bans left and right my heart ached on a level I’ve never experienced while watching a show. When I was little I would hear people at church saying “She sure did usher in the presence of the Lord singing that song this morning.” As I sat outside in 90-degree weather watching Nicole sing for her life, I thought about how this song has the potential to become an anthem for women who are being forced to give birth to babies they don’t want or can’t take care of.
When art meets real life
This incredibly beautiful and unique adaptation of Ragtime feels very present. It feels like I’m watching life happening right now. The casting is impeccable. Like the chemistry, this cast has together is breathtaking. The beautiful people of Color (all colors) in this cast is refreshing. Understanding the black experience and even the immigrant experience of shades of brown and giving them a platform to showcase their talent is beyond our wildest dreams. The chills that creep up and down your arms listening to the voices coming together in harmony with or without music is undoubtedly one of the strongest notes about this cast.
My prayer is that this cast understands the unique responsibility they have in honoring the story they tell with Ragtime. Their gifts have certainly made room for them under this beautiful tent down in Serenbe.
See the show
May 8 – June 9, 2019
7:30pm • Wed, Thurs & Sun
8:00pm • Fri & Sat
FOR THE FIRST TIME, WE PRESENT A SHOW UNDER A TENT
Shows may still be moved indoors in severe weather but we perform rain or shine!