Long after you leave Long Wharf Theatre, you will be haunted by the memories and images conjured up in Boo Killebrew’s gothic tale of one dysfunctional family in the decades from 1960 to 1994. Set deep in the South, it explores the ramifications of the Civil Rights Movement on each individual family member. It begins with a ghost story told by Doris, the powerfully embracing black housekeeper, the lynch pin of the Miller children. Benja Kay Thomas’s Doris keeps the house functioning, not only cooking, cleaning and ironing, but guiding the eldest Thomas, a demanding Roderick Hill, the art loving Becky, a conflicted Leah Karpel, and the rambunctious and affectionate John, a good hearted and concerned Jacob Perkins.
Long Wharf Theatre will offer this compelling and intense drama until Sunday, February 3 on Stage II in New Haven. “MILLER, Mississippi” immediately pulls you into the center of this disturbed family where the patriarch has just died, in a self-inflicted gunshot wound. A respected judge in the community, he, nevertheless, abused his daughter Becky sexually, a despicable action continued by elder son Thomas as if it were a privilege he inherited. The fact that his wife Mildred knew it was happening and failed to protect Becky is one telling truth about this family’s dynamics.
Mildred, a socially proper Charlotte Booker, is concerned with surfaces, appearances and the dictates of the community. As long as her bridge club is privy to the best she can offer, then what exists under the rug is immaterial. When the issue of rights for African-Americans becomes unavoidable and white men from the North try to register voters, the family is forced to take a stand. Mildred and Thomas are clearly against any change to the status quo and don’t want the legacy of white supremacy to change while young John stands firmly with Doris and is eager to help that cause in any way he can. Confused Becky, caught in a morass of abuse, feels powerless to help anyone, least of all herself.
The family struggles and is further divided by the issues. As time passes, marked by pages of the calendar being ripped off, intensified by sounds and music dramatically filling the house created by Daniel Kluger, on a set designed by Kristen Robinson, the ghost story initially told by Doris appears to be coming true. The images on the black and white television set underscore the historical significance of the action. Lee Sunday Evans directs this compelling story this is still being a focus in today’s news with a powerful cast that makes the disintegration seem all too real.
For tickets ($35.50-75.50), call Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven at 203-787-4282 or online at https://www.longwharf.org/. Performances are Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Thursday at 8 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Boo Killebrew was inspired to write this play after returning home to Mississippi for her grandfather’s funeral, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Freedom Summer, and soon found herself ”exploring topics of race and privilege in our nation, and how the legacy of white supremacy is persistent in our present day America and is not just confined to the Civil Rights era in Mississippi.” She is named for Boo Radley, a character in Harper Lee’s classic “To Kill a Mockingbird.” She like the book character can be described as gentle, curious, kind, generous, protective, and, definitely, mysterious.