Monday, November 9, 2015

Theater Review: Jimmy & Lorraine -- Hartbeat Ensemble

Vanessa Butler. Photo: Andy Hart

Musings on Politics, Sexuality, Racial Tension by Major Literary Voices
By Lauren Yarger
Hartbeat Ensemble, with a mission to “create provocative theater” that connects the community beyond barriers of class, race, geography and genders, find a good match in Talvin Wilks’ play Jimmy and Lorraine.

The Jimmy and Lorraine here are authors James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry. Their friendship, played out against the backdrop of racial tension in the United States in the ’50s and ’60s sets the stage for what Wilks subtitles a “musing.”  He uses text from biographies, journals, personal correspondence, plays, novels, interviews, essays and media clips, projected onto Maruti Evans’ simple set with video design by Andrew Reardon.

Jimmy (Aaron Pitre) achieves fames as an essayist and social critic. His “Notes of a Native Son,” for example, probed what it was like to be black at the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement. He also wrote about sexual tensions and was an advocate for gay rights Christopher Hirsh portrays Lucien Happerberger (among a slew other characters), with whom Baldwin had a relationship.

He and Lorraine (Vanessa Butler), who would go on to write A Raisin in the Sun, the first play written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway, team with other prominent African Americans in the arts to try to convince the Kennedy administration to take a moral stand against segregation. They find Bobby Kennedy (Hirsh) clueless and unwilling to hear what they are saying.

The story is told in four parts, some incorporating flashback. The musings are:

  • On Life and Love
  • The Summit
  • Which Battles to Fight
  • On Love and Loneliness: the aftermath

Director Brian Jennings masterfully integrates the action with the clips and even adds some dance which enhances scenes. The 97 minute play is presented without intermission.

Along with the presentation of Jimmy and Lorraine, HartBeat presents its Guided Conversation Series, which will invite our community to participate in an honest dialogue about race, art and politics.

  •  November 13: Sexuality, Black Literature, and the Civil Rights Movement. Participants Reverend Da Vita McCallister, Connecticut Conference Church of Christ 
  • November 20: Hansberry What If? Participants: JoElle Murchison, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Efforts, Travelers; Shaun Biggers, MD; Stephen Latham, Director, Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, Yale School of Medicine

Jimmy and Lorraine runs through Nov. 22 at Hartbeat Ensemble's Carriage House Theater, 360 Farmington Ave., Hartford. Performances are v. 22: Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets $25. No One Turned Away for Lacks of Funds tickets also available at the door on the day of the performance: (860) 

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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