It’s just a few months after 9/11 — the day before Christmas 2001, in fact — but LoisDaviscan’t stop thinking about 1921. She wasn’t even alive then, but that’s the year a race riot — or, as she prefers to call it, a massacre — wreaked havoc upon her family and others living in the heavily African-American Greenwood district of Tulsa.
So she has joined a class-action suit, seeking reparations, and is trying to get other members of her family involved as well. They’re wealthier than her, and uninterested or resistant. But she won’t let it go.
That’s the starting point for “Repairing a Nation,” a new play by Nikkole Salter that is at the Crossroads Theatre Company in New Brunswick through March 8. Don’t be fooled by the title: This is not a dry political dissertation. It’s a dynamicdrama about a dysfunctional family that’s haunted by the past and unsure how to make a better future.
You see, Lois (Stephanie Berry) and her wealthy, self-important cousinChuck (Phil McGlaston), who is married to the shallow, conflict-avoiding Anna (Chantal Jean-Pierre), have their own decades-long wrongs between them, involving a family business. And these wrongs call for a different kind of reparation. Also,Debbie (Angel Moore) — thesweet, smart ex-girlfriend of Lois’ son Seth (Landon Woodson), who is visiting during a college break — may be interested in getting back together with him, but only if he makes yet another kind of reparation, for cheating on her.And then there’s the looming question of what the United States is going to do, as a nation, to retaliate for 9/11.
Salter pulls off a delicate balancing act. She introduces the basic theme of reparations and then shows how it applies to these characters in so many different ways. But on another level, she’s just telling the story of afamily’s rocky holiday gathering. Nothing seems contrived or forced.
Most of the action takes place in Chuck and Anna’s bland home in a Tulsa suburb, though historical context is added with some brief scenes at the Greenwood Cultural Center, where Lois and Debbiework as docents. Berryis appropriately fiery and focused as Lois, and McGlaston and Jean-Pierre do a good job at making theircharacters likable on the surface but not so appealing once you get beyond that. Moore and Woodson are fine in their roles but have fewer complexities to work with.
Salter, who won an Obie Award in 2006 for “In the Continuum,” has previously presented “Repairing a Nation” as a staged reading at Crossroads;Marshall Jones III directed the reading, and this production as well. In her “Playwright Statement” in the play’s program, she writes that she is trying to inspire “a deeper conversation about the complexity of healing inherited wounds. … I wanted to tell a story that made understanding its primary goal— understanding that I pray will help us heal as a nation.”
“Repairing a Nation” will be presented at Crossroads Theatre Company March 6 at 8 p.m., March 7 at 3 and 8 p.m., and March 8 at 3 p.m. (Tonight’sperformance has been cancelled due to the weather). Visit crossroadstheatrecompany.org.