This new play by Boo Killebrew at Long Wharf Theatre’s Stage II, takes place at the home of an affluent, White family in Mississippi between the years 1960-1994. While the civil rights movement plays an important part in “MILLER, Mississippi,” the play contains so many other issues that make it hard to tell who or what the main focus is. The answer to the writer’s multiple themes may forever be blowing in the wind, and yet, this play’s dialogue is well written, and the internal and external subject matters are profound enough to hold your attention because they relate to our country’s ongoing struggles to achieve human rights for all.
The times were rapidly changing during this period of our history, and woven into the conflicts of this dysfunctional, southern family is the political demand for equality – be it equal rights for women, differences in sexual orientation, or, equal rights for black people. If this is what the author had in mind, it is not presented clearly because each of the characters has an equally good story about the subject of equality to tell us. We have male dominance, incest, feminism, homosexuality, violence, social consciousness, etc. etc. etc. In fact, there’s a whole range of human traits in this single play to rival “Gone With The Wind” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
The other flaws in this production concern the staging and limited logistics of Long Wharf’s Stage II. For example, during the performance we attended, it took a leap of imagination to realize that as the actors were removing sections of the living room floor, that this scene was supposed to be taking place at an outdoor gravesite. The burial was not under the living room floor, as it appeared to be.
What’s outstanding about the play is the haunting, Act I. During Act II, there are many twists and turns while play goes steadily downhill, and yet, we are held spellbound as we await the outcome of each of the superb actors under the direction of Lee Sunday Evans.
Benja Kay Thomas, powerfully plays the family’s black housekeeper. She keeps everything and everyone protectively in line with the times, including her son (who does not appear) and the white family’s three children. Charlotte Booker, is the recently widowed, staunch, lady of the house, Mildred Miller, who is determined to hand down her southern traditions. Miller deals with the changing times, and her frustrations over her younger children’s rebellious attitudes through drinking, and keeping up appearances with her Bridge Club. Roderick Hill, Leah Karpel, and Jacob Perkins play the three children who each have an important story to tell as they grow into adults smitten by a variety of circumstances as the play progresses.
See “Miller, Mississippi” for its fine acting and relevance to our own human conditions and ongoing, changing times.