Photo by Shawn Morgan
This summer, with all of its rain, has not been kind to Park Playhouse, which is a shame; their production of the musical Ragtime is the finest I’ve ever seen on their stage (as well as the finest production of the show I’ve ever seen). It took three tries for me to see it all the way through due to Mother Nature, and I’m so glad I persevered.
Ragtime tells the story of three families from different backgrounds in the early 1900s. Mother, Father, Younger Brother and Little Boy are a wealthy white family living outside New York City; Tateh and Little Girl are Eastern European immigrants trying to survive in a new world; and Coalhouse and Sarah are African-Americans trying to make a better life for their son. Their lives intertwine throughout the show in almost mystical ways, showing there are more similarities than differences between them. Interspersed with the families are historical figures of the time such as Emma Goldman, Henry Ford, Booker T. Washington and Harry Houdini.
The choice of this production at this time could not be more perfect. Coalhouse and Sarah’s treatment mirrors the racially charged atmosphere at the center of the Black Lives Matter movement; Tateh and his daughter’s struggles to not only escape their homeland, but to make a life in a country that doesn’t seem to want them brings to mind the issue of immigration in our country. An audience member can choose to see this one of two ways: that the country has always had these issues, or how far we’ve fallen, that we’re right back to where we were 100 years ago. Perhaps it’s a little of both. Either way, it’s chilling.
Director Michael LoPorto has brought together a cast without a single weak link. I lost track of the times I was moved to tears or chills by a harmony, a line, a reaction. A.D. Weaver’s Coalhouse was a force onstage – both his acting and his voice took command in every scene, but he made the most of the small moments, as well, especially with Mariah Lyttle as Sarah, whose gorgeous voice and heartfelt longing were unparalleled. As Mother, Molly Rose McGrath played her character arc beautifully, and her performance in the song “Back to Before” late in the production was a showstopper. Samuel Druhora more than delivered the emotional and vocal range needed for Tateh, and Benita Zahn was an audience favorite as Emma Goldman. However, it was a smaller role that stole the show for me: Alex Kunz as Younger Brother finally brought the complexity I’ve always wanted to see from the character. As a young man searching for something – anything – to guide him, he was stellar, and gave the production heart in a place I’d never noticed it before.
We are so lucky to have Park Playhouse as part of our theatrical community. Here’s hoping the rain holds off for the rest of the run; this show deserves full houses for each and every remaining performance.
“Ragtime,” Park Playhouse, Washington Park, Albany, through July 29, $24-free, Run time: 2 hours and 50 minutes with a 20-minute intermission, www.parkplayhouse.com