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Theater review: Plan-B Theatre Company’s “The Third Crossing”

by on March 7, 2012

Plan-B Theatre Company‘s productions often rely on strong performances from the actors to help the audience enter a play’s world, rather than ornate production values impossible to undertake in the spartan space in the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.

The company’s latest production, the world premiere of The Third Crossing, certainly boasts strong performances from its cast, much of which plays multiple roles in the 80-minute performance. But credit for making The Third Crossing one of the best Plan-B productions of several I’ve seen must go to playwright Debora Threedy, with a strong assist from director (and Plan-B’s producing director) Jerry Rapier.

Threedy weaves an intricate tale of race relations via a script that is part history lesson, part period drama and part modern political screed. And while the show could have veered into preachiness, credit Threedy for making sure it never does, even while making sure her message of equality comes through loud and clear, using both drama and humor along the way.

Threedy’s script bounces between the relationship of Thomas Jefferson (Bob Nelson) and one of his slaves, Sally Hemings (Kalyn West), a history classroom led by a professor (Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin) exploring that controversial bit of American history, and several vignettes in more modern times, including a hate-crime in Salt Lake City’s Liberty Park.

Through all the threads Threedy weaves through her script, what comes through is just how complicated race relations have been in American life right from the very beginning. Even through the strong personal story here of Jefferson and Hemings, in which they argue about their children and try to come to terms with their feelings for each other, there are no easy answers. Jefferson struggles to recognize the needs of his lover and his children by her, and Hemings struggles with her own racial identity even after Jefferson’s dead and she’s a free, elderly woman.

Rapier’s direction keeps The Third Crossing slickly moving along, deftly moving the various characters on and off stage, and creatively changing the scene and era via characters scribbling on a chalkboard. And how many plays have you been to lately that include an audience singalong to help propel the action on stage?

The cast certainly deserves accolades as well, given their collective ability to shift characters on the fly, evoking likeable characters one minute, and virulent racists the next. West deserves special attention for doing much of the show’s heavy lifting as Hemings, a woman whose dignity in the face of unthinkable circumstances gives The Third Crossing its soul.

The Third Crossing runs Thursday, March 8, through Sunday, March 18 at the Rose Wagner. Tickets are $20, available via ArtTix outlets. There are only 90 available as of opening day.

From → Theater reviews

  1. Bob Nelson permalink

    Thanks, Budshot! It’s an honor to be a part of this important production.

    And, frankly, it’s long past time to more fully flesh out our popular notion of Thomas Jefferson. We cherish the Declaration of Independence he drafted, and rightly so–it articulates inspiring egalitarian ideals that to some degree define us as a nation. But this champion of human rights also owned over 600 slaves during his lifetime, and freed only a tiny handful–about 1%. How do we reconcile such astonishingly divergent behavior?

    More to the point, how many more decades must pass before we exorcise all vestiges of racism, and fully implement in our hearts the shining ideals of Jefferson’s rhetoric? Working our way compassionately but unflinchingly through the disturbing inconsistencies of a man like Jefferson is an essential step in our quest for wisdom as individuals and as a nation.

  2. Nice to see Bob Nelson on a stage.

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