Written by Austin-based playwright Lisa B. Thompson, Monroe had its world premier at Austin Playhouse on September 7 in front of a sold out audience. Directed without a false note by artistic director Lara Toner Haddack, the play continues through September 30 and you don’t want to miss it.
Monroe opens on the scene of Jefferson Henry’s lynching. His family, laden with grief and sorrow, watch in silence as his friend Clyde takes the body in his arms, cuts it down from a tree, and carries it away. The rest of the play follows Jefferson’s family and friends in the aftermath of the murder, at a time when no one will be punished for this crime.
Deja Morgan, a gifted young actress, imbues Cherry Henry with an innocence and fierce faith that shows the character’s inner strength, wisdom and stature. Although her naivety about the reproductive process elicited laughs from the audience, the steps Cherry took to understand her immaculate conception and the seriousness with which she accepts the responsibility earn her respect and admiration.
Clyde James is a young man who feels Monroe, LA and its Jim Crow sensibilities are trying to strip away his ambitions before they have a chance to fully form. As played by Kriston Woodreaux, Clyde has charm, humor and an aching restlessness. Woodreaux is new to the Austin Playhouse stage, but his talent and charisma make him an alluring pretense that audiences will want to see more of.
The family matriarch, Ma Henry is played by the always enjoyable Carla Nickerson. Whether she presides over her family from the front porch or kitchen table, Ma Henry lets the next generation know how good christians should behave, even as she sees them slipping away from her and perhaps jeopardizing their souls.
It’s a treat to see Marc Pouhé, the lead actor in many Austin Shakespeare productions, strut and flirt and almost dance across the stage in the guise of Seymour James. His words in Monroe are more down-home than Elizabethan, but spoken by one of Austin’s most accomplished actors still as poetic and regal.
Taji Senior was an opening weekend fill-in for the role of Viola Henry (Crystal Bird Caviel will finish the run). Senior has impeccable comedic timing and her portrayal of a cousin who still competes for Ma Henry’s affection provide some of the biggest laughs in the show.
Huck Huckaby, the only non-black member of the cast, plays Dr. Wyland, a sympathetic doctor who tries to help Cherry understand her “situation.”
The set designed by Mike Toner is spare and versatile. Scene/set changes are punctuated by sound designer Robert Fisher’s beautiful selections of blues and gospel songs, and Chris Conard’s lighting design add to the moodiness and gravity of the piece.
Lisa B.Thompson has a gift for language and appreciation for humanity.
The language in Monroe comes across like a song you once loved, but had forgotten. The phrases coming back to you as you anticipate each note and inflection. Monroe was a winner of the 2018 Austin Playhouse Festival of New Texas Plays and highlights that Lisa B.Thompson has a gift for language and appreciation for humanity.
Monroe runs Thursdays through Sundays until September 30. For more information about the production or the Austin Playhouse season, visit their website.