It has the intrigue of a soap opera and a salacious twist of a tabloid. However, it’s the commentary on race, class and friendship that makes Byhalia, Mississippi more thought-provoking than any scandal-laden magazine found at the grocery store check-out line.
Written by Evan Linder, the story takes place in the town in which the play is entitled (and is 7 miles from where Linder was raised). The show takes us inside the relationship between Jim (played by Jack Falahee, well known for his role on the ABC drama How to Get Away with Murder) and Laurel (played by Caroline Neff). Both are young, broke, in love and expecting a baby.
However, their relationship, if not worldview, is challenged (to say the least) when it’s revealed the baby isn’t Jim’s – and furthermore, is bi-racial! (Oh the horror). The shocking, if not ugly reactions of this news is evident throughout their family and in their small town.
Falahee and Neff are electrifying in the lead roles. Cecelia Wingate, who plays Celeste, is an imposing presence and commands the role as Laurel’s mother. Aimé Donna Kelly (as Ayesha) and Blake Anthony Morris (who plays Karl) are both equally captivating.
Linder says this is personal. “These are people who are not often reflected on American stages unless they are caricatures or the butt of a joke. To me, they are my home. They are family.”
The set design, constructed by Cameron Anderson, works in conjunction with the lighting (Jennifer Reiser), sound (Mikhail Fiksel) and costume design (Jennifer Caprio) to create a world that transports the audience from the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theatre into the tattered shack of familial turmoil, giving us a front row seat into the big drama in a small town.
It’s in that small community where everyone must confront their own demons. Yet, the willingness to face those demons is a universal lesson that all of us can learn – no matter where we come from.
Byhalia, Mississippi run through the July 7th at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theatre. http://www.kennedy-center.org/calendar/event/TTTSK