Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

'Crossin' Over' Speaks Clearly without a Spoken Word

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

'Crossin' Over' Speaks Clearly without a Spoken Word

Article excerpt

With the current revival of its original 2007 show "Crossin' Over," the Black Rep does more than introduce a new audience to one of its best productions.

It allows theatergoers who have seen "Crossin' Over" before to reconsider what made it so good in the first place.

The strengths a fine ensemble, a wide-ranging music selection are still there, of course. But a second or third look helps theatergoers see something really remarkable in the structure of the show, created by Black Rep founder Ron Himes and music director Charles Creath.

Entirely through music and gesture, without any dialogue, "Crossin' Over" manages to convey a big story with absolute clarity. Tracing the history of African-Americans from the other side of the Atlantic to contemporary urban churches, "Crossin' Over" is simultaneously touching and lucid.

Not to mention entertaining. Obviously, it can't take too deep a look into any of specific issues that it deals with, but it's comprehensive and, in the end, pretty optimistic. If you have any interest in American cultural history, you don't want to miss this show.

And while you're at it, bring the kids. They'll enjoy it, too, and the whole family will have plenty to talk about afterward.

From the opening scene, when a percussionist trio takes us to West Africa, it's easy to fall under the spell of the show. Life in Africa seems appealing, with crops to plant, religious rituals involving a dancing totem, even a little flirtation.

But when the performers let us see disaster strike as they are captured and imprisoned on a slave ship, we appreciate their confusion and fear. The simple set, designed by Jim Burwinkle, has a couple of levels, allowing director Himes to jam the cast into a crowded hold below the deck (the upper level of the stage). Then they are separated by gender.

In both places, Himes alludes to the prisoners' terrible suffering through the Middle Passage. A man is whipped, the women are raped. But we never see any assailants. The actors, writhing spasmodically, tell us what happens all by themselves, without a spoken word. It's storytelling by allusion, never explicit but all too clear.

This cast includes veterans of earlier productions, plus newcomers. …

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