Theater Review: Joe Turner's Come and Gone—Congo Square honors August Wilson

As a part of Goodman Theatre’s August Wilson Celebration, Congo Square is staging one of Wilson’s most intense dramas. Directed by Founding Artistic Director Derrick Sanders, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone describes the search of Herald Loomis (Javon Johnson) for his estranged wife. One of Wilson’s earlier works (1984), it is set in Pittsburgh in 1911. Seth Holly (Aaron Todd Douglas) and his wife Bertha (Taron Patton) have a boarding house. Their boarders have become an integral part of their household, and when Loomis and his daughter Zonia (Jasmine Randle) arrive, a pall settles over the house.

The authenticity of the home gives a sense of credibility to the entire drama. Biscuits warm in the oven, and water is pumped at the country sink, but it is the intensity of the human relationships that dominates the stage. Wilson’s genius in writing authentic dialogue that becomes musical as the actors interact is his greatest gift to us. The male characters are those he encountered as a child and young man, and their strength reveals character too often ignored.

There are not enough descriptive words in the thesaurus to adequately show the quality of Congo Square’s work. It is described as an “ensemble dedicated to artistic excellence…producing definitive and transformative theater spawned from the African diaspora…” It is not often an audience rises literally cheering a production as it did at the opening of this magnificent play. There were tears in many eyes, including mine. The Jeff Awards are Chicago’s Tonys, and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone should receive every one.

Every member of the cast is exceptional. As Bynum Walker, Allen Gilmore is the griot and counselor to all he meets. Daniel Bryant is Jeremy Furlow, a young road worker determined to do better and charming all the ladies. Scott Baity Jr., as Reuben, steals every scene as the boy just entering his teen years and giving Zonia her first kiss. Javon Johnson frightens us and breaks our hearts. Not ’til the final scene do we literally see his body and soul bared.

Before his death, August Wilson designated that money given in his memory be given to four arts organizations. Congo Square was the only theater company so honored. Wilson had served on its board and supported them from their very beginnings.

My first encounter with the work of August Wilson was Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, performed in a church on Bryn Mawr in Chicago. I have been privileged to see every one of his 10 plays, many at the Goodman Theatre. We feel his loss, but his exceptional dramas will be with us always.

Playing through Feb. 25, tickets are available through Carol Fox and Associates by phone at (773) 327-3830, fax at (773) 327-3834 or e-mail at In reviewing theater in 2007, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone will top my list.

Note…in my mail this week—Main Street Players of Boone County announce the cancellation of their February 2007 production. Citing the inability to find people necessary to produce their show, they ask for greater involvement from the community. If you can be of help, call (815) 229-4444.

From the Feb. 21-27, 2007, issue

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