Ragtime Review

Work #29
wordcount 632
copyright 2005 C.E.

[Another review for a play called "Ragtime." I didn't realize it was a musical so I didn't enjoy it as much as say, Blithe Spirit. Enjoy.]

"They called it ‘Ragtime’...." The opening number of this period piece gives you just about all the information you’ll need to know over what this play is about. Professional performances by Kim Finch-Mother, Jesse Coleman- Father, Patrick Bell-Younger Brother, S. Brown-Coalhouse Walker, Ebony Blake-Sarah, and K.J. Hippensteel-Tateh/Baron, draw you into the well crafted story of chaotic times as presented by the director Greg Hellems assisted by the musical direction of David Hapner.

This period piece, set during the turbulent atmosphere that played out at the turn of the twentieth century, spells out its profound message of intolerance and ignorance in the form of a musical. Though the sounds are well crafted and the musical numbers elegantly composed, the real joy is in the acting capabilities of those involved in the scenaric presentation of the production itself-or, briefly put, the actors themselves.

The story itself is fairly straight forward: racial strife amongst three very different factions represented by the immigrants, blacks, and wealthy whites, spurs the characters into various actions indicative of their positions in society and consequently gives us a view into their psyches. The story really picks up with the discovery of a black baby and the responsibility the discoverer, Mother, feels towards the child and its mother Sarah-who had abandoned him by ‘burying’ it in Mother’s flower pottery; though the specific reason behind this is never fully disclosed and only hinted at, possibly because Sarah felt abandoned by Coalhouse, but this excuse holds very little water for a mother who later seems so very doting. Sarah ends up being tracked down by Coalhouse and wooed by him yet again until they are eventually married. This sets the stage for the conflicts brewing between the white upper family-instigated by father-and the black ‘interlopers’, if you will.

All of this story seems inspired by real life events- most assuredly the racist attitudes prevalent throughout the twentieth century. Obviously, Ragtime makes an effort to preach unity amid peoples and to shed light on the fact we are all living our lives for our families-a central theme throughout the piece. In spite of the rather unfortunate end, the play inspires hope in ever changing times. This hope is delivered by means of several key characters: Coalhouse turns himself in towards the end demonstrating a ceasing to hostilities, Tateh finds his way in a ‘cold-land’ despite feeling that he had made a big mistake traveling to America, Mother finally achieves a measure of peace by the plays finale, and the abandoned child of Sarah and Coalhouse lives to see a more resolute time. Certainly the characters come to understand their stances in the changing fates of human existence.

Ragtime isn’t a play that appeals to me. The story is phenomenal-at the least, excellently presented, especially given the fact this was the final dress rehearsal before opening night. The major problem for me is, I can’t stand musicals. My favorite part of this piece was the character expressions delivered by the actors. Their expressiveness kept me entertained and awake. Unfortunately, people breaking into song at sudden intervals make me cringe, which means I have a natural bias against it already. However, this aside, it was a great play with excellent acting and a moving message against bigotry. Yet, I still can’t get over how easily Sarah gets respect despite abandoning her baby. I can’t accept that she would just find responsibility towards the child when she’s taken in by Mother-and later when Coalhouse comes a knockin’. It just doesn’t make sense to me but that’s personal preference, I suppose. My kudos to the players for their hard work, just the same. They put on a hell of a performance with very, very few errors. This I can recognize even if the genre isn’t up my particular alley.

Email: kaipur@aol.com