“The Salvagers” by Harrison David Rivers is a World Premiere commissioned by Yale Repertory Theatre. In short, it’s about a strained, father and son relationship — a subject that is probably as old as the word “Theatre.” What’s different is that Rivers hopes to give his audiences some insight to this common phenomenon from the Black perspective. As in many new works there are creative elements to be savored and problems that need to be worked out.
On the creative side, we are immediately held spellbound by the snow-shoveling prologue and Taylor A. Blackman who has the body and flexibility of a dancer. He gives us a very believable “Boseman Salvage Junior,” the 23 Yr. old rebellious son who takes pills for emotional disorders and still lives with his father. Julian Elijah Martinez, plays the 37 Yr. old father, “Boseman Salvage Senior,” who powerfully pours out his frustrations because his son cannot live up to his expectations. Toni Martin portrays “Nedra,” the comforting, divorced mother who gave birth to Junior while she and Boseman were teenagers. McKenzie Chinn as “Elinor” and Mikayla La Shae Bartholomew as “Paulina” are the men’s understanding girlfriends. Mikael Burke directs while the cold and somber mood throughout the production is enhanced by Projection Designer, John Horzen along with Lighting Designer, Nick Vincent and Choreography by Tislarm Bouie.
The writer’s use of meaningful names and lots of symbolism is very effective but his main problems are with the timing and structure of this overlong one-act play. The plot meanders as Junior, a stress-induced heavy smoker and drinker wanders from disappointing theatre auditions and Shakespeare soliloquies to subways, therapists and mother-comfort.
Repetitious scenes with girlfriends and the abusive father ensue until we finally learn that there’s an underlying secret to all this struggling and madness. When this secret is revealed to Junior and not made clear enough to the audience, it fails to make an impact. Thus, we are left to wonder exactly why this supposed crisis led to divorce, disabilities and reconciliation.