New Haven’s Yale Repertory Theatre is inviting you to make the acquaintance of Bigger Thomas but don’t expect the encounter to be over tea and crumpets. Bigger’s world in infested with violence and disappointment, poverty and struggle, and the occasional black rat that has to be destroyed. In Bigger Thomas’ world, there is little to hope for and much to be feared. In Chicago’s South Side at the tail end of the Great Depression, black men like Bigger have a fate that seals their existence and offers little to encourage their escape. Thanks to Richard Wright’s gritty portrait of Bigger Thomas in his groundbreaking novel “Native Son,” we know him from the inside out, privy to his thoughts and illusions, trapped in his physical and mental assaults.
Yale Repertory Theatre, until Saturday, December 16, is presenting this gritty and gutsy tale adapted for the stage by Nambi E Kelley. This is not a sit back and enjoy experience. It is in your face and in the head of Bigger as his life explodes around him. When he secures the job as a chauffeur for a wealthy white family, it seems for a moment he may have the means for advancement, a chance to climb out of his preordained struggle. An accident, however, sets him on a road of violence and despair, one that he runs from but can’t escape.
Jerod Haynes’ Bigger is born into a life of poverty and every day is a struggle to be human. He is blessed or cursed with an inner self, a soul who reflects on his actions and choices, and helps him think through and about his reality. Jason Bowen embodies that inner voice with gusto. Bigger is doomed to run ever faster to escape, climbing up the metal scaffolding set created by scenic designer Ryan Emens, but never finding the freedom he seeks so desperately. The audience is also trapped in his psyche, with the violence and intensity that marked his forehead like the one forged on Cain. Seret Scott directs this explosive drama that will leave you exhausted and exhilarated at the same time.
For tickets ($12-99), call the Yale Rep, 1120 Chapel Street, New Haven at 203-432-1234 or online at www.yalerep.org. Performances are Tuesday at 8 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Leave your prejudices and preconceptions at the door as you become embroiled in Bigger Thomas’ world and the fate he inherited and can’t distance himself from living.