Living the dream
While the small and volunteer Weekend Theater struggled to pull off the complex story of “Ragtime” with its 30-plus acting roles — often the stage seemed too crowded and singing voices not quite up to par — the newly opened show is one you can easily love, not in spite of, but because of its blemishes.
Since the novel “Ragtime” was published in 1974, author E.L. Doctorow’s vision of the American Dream has caught the country’s imagination. Well-noted film director Milos Forman, whose movie adaptation was not particularly well received by the critics, nevertheless boosted the popularity of the early-20th-century story, launching a Broadway musical “Ragtime” written by Stephen Flaherty.
“Ragtime” tells the story of America’s three most influential groups in early-20th-century New York: the WASPS, the blacks and the immigrants. For the whites, business was flourishing in the midst of a rapidly changing economy, with an explosion of industrialization. This meant, though, that the not-so-fortunate minorities and immigrants looking for success in the land of opportunity were often forced into menial labor, or perhaps no trade whatsoever.
In “Ragtime,” the three classes collide in a violent uproar that sends the entire city of New Rochelle into a frenzy. The WASP family, the matriarch of which is referred to simply as “Mother” — played by Sarah Bragg, who is well cast with her soothing vocals and matronly persona — takes into their home a black mother and child.
The father of the child is Coalhouse Walker Jr., played effectively by Russell Holley, no doubt picked for his imposing presence and good looks. Even though this was Holley’s acting debut, no first-time jitters seemed to bother this guy.
A pianist known for his awe-inspiring ragtime beats, Coalhouse quickly turns vigilante after his new Model T car is destroyed by racists and, in the aftermath, his wife is murdered. Although Sarah serves only as a catalyst for the plot’s clash between the races, Amanda Hood brings the character to life through her emotionally affecting voice. Her solo “Your Daddy’s Son” was surprisingly heart-breaking and came close to stealing the show several times.
Meanwhile, a Jewish immigrant named Tateh and his daughter struggle in the city streets drawing silhouettes for change enough to keep themselves fed. All of the play’s characters have their ideal of what America should be — a place where the voice of every man can be heard — and keep their pride and dignity. But through all the tension of a nation in transition, each must come to terms with his or her own loss, disillusionment and stark disappointment.
The Weekend Theater always surprises with its ability to adapt hefty performances to its modest accommodations. Because every show is run entirely by volunteer effort, TWT plays lack the showboat attitude that comes with an overblown budget, and it seeks to inspire its audiences and send the message of powerful musicals such as “Ragtime” clearly and unpolluted.
Check it out the next two weekends. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Call 374-3761 for reservations.