This review of Ragtime at The Gallery Players was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Book by Terrence McNally
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Based on the Novel "Ragtime" by E.L. Doctorow
Produced by Jonathan-Bruce King
Director: Mark Harborth
Music Director: Leslie Wickham
Choreographer: Ryan Hendricks
Production Stage Manager: Liza Penney
Scenic Designer: Collin Eastwood
Costume Designers: Jerry Mittelhausere & Carol Strandburg
Lighting Design: Scott Andrew Cally
Fight Director: Joseph Travers
The Gallery Players
199 14th Street
Brooklyn, New York 11215
Neither reading the book nor seeing the movie based on the book left an impression on my mind but seeing the musical affected me greatly. First of all, it was a pleasure to see an ensemble of actors who emoted so well. I thought all the roles in this Gallery Players' production of Ragtime were perfectly cast, even the minor ones. As for the major roles, I thought Booker T. Washington, played by Andrew Horton; the Little Boy Edgar, played by Jonah Mussolino; Tateh, played by James Zannelli; and Coalhouse Walker Jr., played by Marcus A. Jordan, stood out. Mark Harborth as the director deserves full credit for realizing the potential of the actors while Jonathan-Bruce King should receive acclaim for putting the production together. The scenic design by Collin Eastwood made the changes of scenes effortless. I especially liked the piano with the seat attached as Coalhouse was wheeled around. The period costumes by Jerry Mittelhausere and Carol Strandburg made the pre-World War I era come alive before our eyes. When there was a discussion of the play afterward by the actors, it was striking to see how they looked dressed in modern clothes in comparison with the clothes of a much earlier generation. The lighting design by Scott Andrew Cally highlighted the action and transition between the scenes. The choreography by Ryan Hendricks moved things along and the fight direction by Joseph Travers made the fight sequences look amazingly realistic.
The opening sequence shows us the "good old days" as the blacks, whites, and immigrants celebrate their own unique lifestyles separate and apart from "the others" - but things are far from harmonious. The theme would be the fracturing of the American Dream as we see several events occur that interact and intertwine with one another. We have two dysfunctional families: one black and one white, a broken immigrant family, labor activism, and racial strife as well as celebrities of the era making an appearance - Evelyn Nesbit and Harry Houdini, in particular. After much bloodshed and emotional suffering, there is a happy resolution for some of the characters. Individuals from three, very different cultural backgrounds, meld into the dream American family of the future where black and white, immigrant and native-born, all get along as one, big happy family and walk off into the sunset together.
The most poignant scene is when Edgar attends a Yankees baseball game with his father. He achieves the thrill of a lifetime when he catches a ball. However, the effort by his father to Americanize his son into America's pastime is a big fail because all the attendees are busy cursing, spitting, and fighting each other not only verbally, but literally. The game is a metaphor for America coming apart.
Annie Sherman was just plain magnetic as Emma Goldman despite her having a bad cold/laryngitis. She had a most expressive face, especially her eyes which perfectly conveyed the radicalism of Emma Goldman's personality and message. She gave the best stage performance I have ever seen. While it was hard to hear her, even in the second row, she was most eloquent even when her lips moved but no sound came out. During "The Night That Emma Goldman Spoke At Union Square," I was moved by her idealism and hope that America could become a better country. Radicalized by the racism he experienced in New Rochelle, Coalhouse abandoned his belief justice could be attained in America by following the rules and instead sought revenge against those who had caused him harm. The most dramatic scene in the play was the assassination of an unarmed Coalhouse who had been promised his day in Court if he surrendered. The book by Terrence McNally minces no words. It captures the spirit of the time and moves the play along.
The scene I felt was not as good as it could have been was the one where Coalhouse confronted Irish immigrants in New Rochelle who were manning the volunteer Fire Department. Firefighters, dismayed at seeing a black man owning a Model-T, demand a $25.00 toll and deface the car when Coalhouse goes to seek the aid of the police. They spoke the words of racism but their hearts were not in it. Perhaps this is because the actors have no experience observing this degree of racism in real life. This is understandable and speaks volumes regarding the true state of race relations in our country. We have achieved much progress towards harmony even though we still have more to achieve.
After the play, there was talk-back during which many of the actors and a few of the behind-the-scenes staff participated. I gained much insight into how the actors felt regarding their respective roles. The discussion was less academic than it was political. Leftists tried to politicize the play by arguing that the decision to perform Ragtime, made a year before, was somehow the perfect play to perform in response to Donald Trump becoming President. The progressives dominating the discussion still have no clue how oppressive the off-track, radical, progressive, politically correct agenda had become and how it pushed normal, decent, moderate Americans to vote for Trump. They would be shocked by how many secret Trump supporters were sitting in the audience, all of whom would deplore the racism and injustice depicted in this play.
I very much enjoyed this production of Ragtime, which runs through May 14, 2017. The Gallery Players did a magnificent job. You will do yourself a real favor by seeing it. Tickets cost $25.00 and can be purchased at www.GalleryPlayers.com. For more information, call 212-352-3101.