In times of reform and change, how do individuals respond during those times, and how do a society’s tradition and culture shape these individuals’ ways of thinking? To what extent can traditions be embraced, changed, and/or abandoned, and what are the possible consequences? These are important questions raised and depicted in Boo Killebrew’s “Miller, Mississippi,” which is showing at the Long Wharf Theatre until February 3rd. Under the guidance of director Lee Sunday Evans, this production allows the audience members to think critically, reflecting on their own lives and on the various modern trends occurring within society.
The Miller Family is a family that has clout and respect within the state of Mississippi. After the death of Mr. Miller in 1960, the rest of the family witnesses the strengthening and growing Civil Rights Movement. Mildred (Charlotte Booker), the wife of Mr. Miller, assumes the role of keeping Southern tradition and customs within the household and maintains the family’s prominence within society by attending or hosting social gatherings. Doris Stevenson (Benja Kay Thomas), a Black housekeeper, watches and takes care of the three Miller children as their mother performs her duties. Thomas (Roderick Hill), the oldest child, aspires to be like his father, who was a state judge who sought to preserve and adhere to Southern traditions of that time. Becky (Leah Karpel) and John (Jacob Perkins), the second and third child respectively, seek to be different and want to embrace the changes occurring within Southern society.
The performances of each cast member are outstanding, showing the gradual changes of each character as they mature. Roderick Hill’s performance as Thomas depicts an individual wanting to embrace his society’s tradition and uphold the legacy of his family, for he speaks with a deep-rooted Southern accent and acts distressed, by way of fiercely glaring at individuals, whenever family and cultural traditions are challenged. Benja Kay Thomas’s performance as Doris shows the struggle of reserving personal opinions and beliefs from others, for when a member of the family says something deemed prejudiced, Doris remains quiet, expressing only a disappointed look in her face. Becky is a strong character, wanting to fulfill her own aspirations, but by doing so, she will not conform to cultural norms and traditional expectations. Leah Karpel shows this character’s struggle by being defiant whenever she is discouraged to seek for her own dreams. Jacob Perkins depicts a character who truly seeks to be different from his society by being enthusiastic and passionate whenever John gets word of the latest news of the Civil Rights Movement from the media. Charlotte Booker’s performance as Mildred is wonderful. Her bubbly, genial Southern accent gives the character a homely and sophisticated appearance. Her character is conflicted with the ongoing changes in her state, and Booker shows this by using a cheerful yet somewhat uncomfortable laugh whenever Mildred is involved in conversations regarding these changes.
The set design by Kristen Robinson is beautifully made. The use of light browns and yellows for the wallpaper and the use of high windows provides a welcoming yet extravagant living space. The addition of an old-fashioned television box and a record player allows the audience members to feel as if they were in that time period. The costumes designed by Oana Botez are amazing, especially those used for Mildred. The brightly colored dresses show the lively atmosphere during the 1960s, yet it also exudes sophistication and conservatism.
“Miller, Mississippi” is a production worth seeing and experiencing, encouraging its viewers to think and reflect on their own lives. For more information and to purchase tickets, call (203)-787-4282 or go to www.longwharf.org.