Poignant ‘Plain’ of Past History

Courtesy of Paul R. Kennedy

Courtesy of Paul R. Kennedy

“The Liquid Plain” opened at the Robert Cohen Theatre on Jan. 31. The entire first act is set in 1791 on the docks of Rhode Island, a time when slavery was at its peak.

It starts with two runaway slaves Adjua (Jessica Mason) and Dembi (Maribel Martinez) who find the body of sailor John Cranston (Josh Odsess-Rubin) who they presume to be dead. Cranston, however, comes alive and seeks refuge with the runaways but seems to have lost his memory. He is captivated by the beautiful Adjua and threatens to hand them over if she doesn’t satisfy his needs. Fearing for their safety, Adjua complies.

The play however takes an interesting turn when we see that Cranston starts to get his memory back and that the captain of their vessel, Liverpool Joe (Blake Morris), is still alive. Together they try to plan a desperate run to Africa in order to escape the horrors of slavery.

Act two moves to 1837 where we see that all of the characters have aged and then comes Bristol Waters (Jade Payton), the daughter of Adjua. She comes aboard a ship, seeking to understand the life of her mother and father, as she never had a chance to interact with either of her parents. Act two deals with the confrontation of Bristol with Captain James De Woolf (Jacob Ben-Shmuel) about the murder of  her aunt, the unnamed slave woman whom he dropped into the water, tied to a chair.

This play is done in the round, meaning it is staged in the center and the audience sits all around, in a circular manner.

“There is a kind of blind spot, like Balthazar’s blind spot, and that absence of vision on one side is an interesting metaphor,” said the director of the play, Jaye Austin Williams. “So I think it is important to have the audience to bear witness to itself bearing witness. Also to have a sense of not being able to escape the interrogation, not being able to escape the submersion into the ocean and into the investigation about it.”

One of the captivating aspects of the play were the three dancers (Loren Campbell, Ongelle Johnson and Darlisa Wajid-Ali, choreographed by Sakina Ibrahim) who accentuated the emotions of the characters and showed us the depth of these emotions using fluid dance movements. The dancers used the space really well by moving in and out seamlessly and smoothly. Their movements enhanced and gave more depth and meaning to the anguish of the slaves.

When asked about what you would like people to take away from this play, Colin Nesmith (who plays William Blake) said,  “I would want people to really consider the viewpoint of being black in America. I want them to go away kind of a little bit alienated from what their usual position might be and how they feel about all (the various) kinds of racial issues going on in the country right now.”

“The Liquid Plain” is playing at the Robert Cohen Theatre on Feb. 4 at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 5 to 6 at 8:00 p.m., Feb. 7 at both 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Dec. 8 at 2:00 p.m.