The play effectively takes you back to a different time and place and the ensemble cast instills their characters with the appropriate amount of emotional context and emotional pull between the way they were raised and what some of them see in how Western values are the refined way of the future. The conflict between these at times very opposing views and its connection to the uprising against the colonial structure by the African tribes that is taking place just a couple of hundred miles away is what makes the play at times a riveting and emotional one. It also accurately shows the good and bad on both sides as well as how people hold to their native customs while others relish their new found beliefs.
|Cheryl Lynn Bruce and Pascale Armand|
The rest of the cast is just as good. LeRoy McClain as Chilford has the appropriate demeanor and actions of an African man who sees the good in Christianity as he actively tries to convert the locals but also makes no effort to hide his views against what be believes is the backward ways of his people, something that isn't exactly the Christian thing to do. He has cut his ties to his people and hopes to become a Jesuit priest, something that no African man has yet become. The aunt, Mai Tamba, is perfectly played by Cheryl Lynn Bruce in a performance so grounded that you know instantly where this woman is coming from by simple actions she does and facial expressions she makes.
|Harold Surratt, Warner Joseph Miller, |
McClain, Armand and Bruce
While there is some humor in the first half of the play, the second half veers toward more serious elements. Fortunately the comic moments in the first half never seem unnatural and help ease some of the tension that comes later. McCarter Artistic Director Emily Mann directs the production and the fact that the entire play takes place in Chilford's living room, and you never once feel trapped there, is because of Mann's superb direction and the often riveting story. A simple set design by Daniel Ostling and costumes by Paul Tazewell combine to transport you back more than 100 years ago.
At three hours long, it could be a very long night in the theatre, but the time moves swiftly and there really isn't much fat that could be trimmed from the play to get it to a shorter length. In fact, when most modern plays seem to be sticking close to the one act, under two hour length, it is nice to see a fully fleshed out play where there isn't a lot of extraneous material to get in the way. The fact it doesn't seem a long play is as much a result of the playwright as it is in the superb direction of Mann.
The Convert is a rich, deep, emotional play that warrants future productions. This is a play that will make you think, not only when the play is over but several days later as well. The Convert is running at the McCarter through February 12th before moving to the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and then on to the Center Theater Group in Los Angeles.
Comments from the director and playwright:
Opening Night footage: