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He’ll set his foot down on the road and the wind in the trees be talking to him and everywhere he step on the road, that road’ll give back your name and something will pull him right up to your doorstep…but maybe he ain’t supposed to come back.
Bynum, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.
In Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (Belasco Theater), the road is the metaphor that drives this story of African-Americans searching for sanctuary some 50 years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation granted them freedom, but no discernable peace in a land loath to grant them respect or the means to make their own way. By 1911 the Great Migration from the South to the North had begun: August Wilson’s characters are twisting in the wind, looking for financial and psychic grounding by traveling from state to state, town to town still chased by the remnants of slavery, still haunted by evils inflicted on their flesh and minds.
One watches this drama (first produced on Broadway in 1988) stunned by the hindsight knowledge that its character’s trials, representative of a people, have only just begun: it’ll be years before civil rights acts are ratified, before Loving vs. Loving and Brown vs. the Board of Education, Jim Crow and mountains of backward perceptions evolve to offer a world where the possibility of a Barack Obama (or a Sonia Sotomayor, for that matter) gets embraced.
It’s a testament to this fine drama (one in a series of works meant to document the lives of black folks in every decade of the 20th Century) that its characters carry their pain with grace and determination—rarely do they make excuses for themselves (like some modern day media-centric blacks we have known). These people push forward with courage, humor and a worldview impervious to obstacles on the eloquent gusts of Wilson’s language, a patois that weaves folklore and history into a mesmerizing treatise on the ways of all men. The result is heartrending, cathartic and inspirational. Bravo to Lincoln Center, director Bartlett Sher and a cast led by Roger Robinson (a wonder as Bynum) and Chad L. Coleman as the archetypal ramblin’ man Harold Loomis.
Follow the road—Joe Turner’s Come and Gone is a journey not to be missed.
above, Chad L. Coleman, Roger Robinson and cast