For a quartet of women in a Virginia civil rights office in the early 1960’s, this is a momentous red letter “new dawn and new day.” Rosa Parks, the strong black activist who stood up for her rights, is coming to town to speak. Until Saturday, May 18, the Yale Repertory Theatre is serving up a fascinating living and breathing history lesson that still needs to be learned in the world premiere of Tori Sampson’s “Cadillac Crew.”
The crushing disappointment that a group of men have disallowed Mrs. Parks to speak at the last moment forces this female foursome to make a startling decision. Rachel (Chalia Le Tour) Abby (Dria Brown), Dee (Ashley Bryant), all black women, with Sarah (Bronte England-Nelson), a white woman, are determined to make a difference in the struggle for desegregation and equality for all women, not just women of color.
They want their message and mission to be recorded and remembered. They elect to go on the road and drive through the South as a “Cadillac crew,” speaking and advocating for positive change. Along the way, they will document their experiences so, hopefully, the future activists can stand on their shoulders to reach their goals.
Their road trip is fraught with small victories and huge risks, as they travel to make a difference. Each woman faces her own individual obstacles and challenges, Dee has sent her daughter Deborah to a white school on the first day of class with a knife, Abby has just learned she is pregnant with a white man’s baby, Sarah has issues with “passing” as a white woman despite her heritage and Rachel is the spiritual leader determined to cause change even if it means sacrificing her life in the process.
These ladies are dedicated to securing the vote and to being treated as people who are no longer invisible. They are crusaders and pioneers, even revolutionaries, bent on succeeding, black women speaking out for all their sex, come hear them roar. In Act II, the transition is made to the present day, in a Podcast, highlighting the stories of the past and the continual struggle to be heard and recognized.
The fight is far from over, but the hope and strength of the mission are real, even if the voices of Rachel, Abby, Dee and Sarah are trapped in the stories of the past. Rasean Davonte Johnson’s stream of projections helps the story progress while Jesse Rasmussen’s direction keeps the tale vital, real and powerful.
For tickets ($60-92), call the Yale Rep, 1120 Chapel Street, New Haven at 203-432-1234 and online at www.yalerep.org. Performances are Tuesday to Saturday at 8 p.m., with a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m.
Hop aboard the car with this strong battalion of “Cadillac crew” as they fight to make a difference, to secure equality for women, and direct themselves to a better destination. They are the GPS to the future.