Like to be preached to? Then “Cadillac Crew” is for you. Like plays where people are more positions than characters? Same deal. That’s the fate of Tori Sampson’s sincere but pedantic “Cadillac Crew,” having its world premiere at Yale Rep.
This is a work about “powerful women,” a drama that champions unsung females (much like the film “Hidden Figures”). The time is the early 1960s, the place a local civil rights office in Virginia, replete with wall posters that cry “Justice for Women” and “Register Now For Freedom Now.”
Four women — three black, one white – talk about their lives while waiting for none other than Rosa Parks to speak at their convention. That Parks’ speech is canceled by men in charge is a sticking point.
Other outside events, including dire threats like bullets taped to the door, vie with the women’s personal stories. Bossy, by-the-rules Rachel (Chalia La Tour), nubile, pregnant Abby (Dria Brown), argumentative homebody Dee (Ashley Bryant), who gave her daughter a penknife for protection at the integrated school she’s attending, and the accommodating yet independent white Sarah whose grandmother was a suffragette, all realize it’s men who make the decisions. Meanwhile they struggle with the question of what should be emphasized: that they are black or women?
In the second act, the foursome becomes part of the so-called Cadillac Crew, integrated groups that travel to segregated communities, examples of comity. The women, though fearing the fate of previous pioneers who were shot and burned to death, nevertheless persist. “Life is worth living if you know what you want to do with it,” says Abby. “Make yourself big enough to the point where your purpose sees you as clearly as you see it.”
As co-directed by Jesse Rasmussen and playwright Sampson, all four actors are fine, even when they’re merely mouthpieces for the author’s pronouncements. Sampson has an ear for dialogue (Cramps are described as feeling “like an unholy grip got hold of your uterus and’s wringing it out like a soaked sponge”) but, judging from this work, dramaturgy is not her strongest asset. The coda is an editorial on what’s happening in the world today. It should come with liner notes.