The Old Settler

Writers’ Theatre won a million points with me for making such a hassle-free exchange of my tickets, when I decided on two weeks’ notice to go on vacation. Then, they won a few more points for sending me an e-mail reminder for Sunday that included a reminder about Daylight Savings.

That’s customer service.

The Old Settler is a story about two sisters of a certain age living in war time Harlem that take in a boarder – a nice Southern boy looking for his fiancée. The fiancée turns up, is a big pill and drama ensues.

The playbill made a big deal about how this is African American material. was set in Harlem, and the actors were African American, but it otherwise seemed to be a pretty standard drama about the American Experience. You know what made it an African American thing to me? The audience.

Writers’ Theatre, bless their hearts, try very hard to produce material that broaden our little literary horizons. But the reality is that the audience is extremely white and extremely suburban. That’s what happens when you set up shop in Glencoe. But for this production, I think a fourth..maybe even a third of the audience was African American. And it was awesome.

The theatre is really intimate – a hundred seats. I know I have told you that legend has it in one show, when a fight broke out in the action of the play, a member of the audience actually got up out of his seat to break it up. Because he’d forgotten. This show had near that kind of audience participation. A couple of audience shout outs when there was an argument between characters. Some big “Woooooo!”s when there was smooching. And – I kid you not – a collective Marge Simpson noise of displeasure when the leading lady declared, “I would have made him love me!” I have never seen this happen before.

The acting was fabulous. I saw the show with the understudy playing the lead role of Miss Elizabeth and she was wonderful. This clip seems a bit more forced than I remember it on stage, but I imagine this was taken during the dress rehearsals so I forgive them. The lady playing Lou Bessie reminded me a bit much of Jackee Harry’s character on 227, except without any heart at all. I have pondered it for a day now, and rather think that was deliberate.

I don’t remember the last time I had so much fun at a show.

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