Theater Review: E. Faye Butler energizes Purlie at Goodman

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112975120111325.jpg’, ‘Photo by Michael Brosilow’, ‘Rockford's E. Faye Butler plays Aunt Missy Judson in Chicago's Goodman Theatre production of Purlie, running through Oct. 30.’);

Ossie Davis’ Purlie, currently playing at the Goodman Theatre, is a high-energy gospel showcase, and Rockford’s E. Faye Butler leads a cast of talented singers and dancers. Playing Aunt Missy Judson, a Mississippi woman whose energy and wise counsel enable her friends and family to survive the racism of the community, she evokes shouts from her audience.

Set in the South during the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement, Davis uses satire and characterizations to emphasize the plight of African-Americans. Especially discomforting is Gitlow Judson, played by Harrison White. Bowing and scraping to Ol’ Cap’n Cotchipee (Lyle Kanouse), his menial behavior rouses the memories of black exploitation. To put this play in perspective, Richard Wright’s Black Boy is a perfect read. Growing up in the ’20s in exactly the same place, his defiance and questioning almost got him killed. Over and over again, friends tried to explain the “proper way” to interact with whites. The humble, unintelligent personae was the only way to survive, and Gitlow is the perfect example of getting over.

Jacques C. Smith as Purlie Victorious Judson, a born-again preacher, plots to regain an inheritance from Ol’ Cap’n. He brings Lutiebelle (Paulette Ivory) to impersonate Cousin Bea. An innocent with the voice of an angel, she immediately falls for Purlie. Ivory recreates the Melba Moore role perfectly, and her duets with Butler are high points. “Down Home” and “He Can Do It” are harmonic successes.

Charlie Cotchipee, played by Billy Gill, represents the musicians and activists of the ’60s. Seeing the plight of the black community, they confront their elders, hoping to make a difference.

The ensemble is outstanding, dancing and playing every role from field hand to choir member. Their performances are essential to the evening’s achievement of fine theater. Purlie is a joint effort of the Goodman and Pasadena Playhouse. Director Sheldon Epps brought about the collaboration. First running in Pasadena and opening in Chicago Sept. 27, 2005, the music, staging and experienced cast are top notch.

The successful previews brought an unprecedented demand for tickets, and Purlie has already been extended through Oct. 30. For ticket information, call (312) 443-3800. There is convenient parking at Government Center Self Park at Clark and Lake. A voucher may be obtained at the Goodman Box Office for discount parking.

From the Oct. 19-25, 2005, issue

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