Sunday, April 19, 2009

Review: Joe Turner's Come and Gone

Amari Rose Leigh, foreground, Chad L. Coleman and Danai Gurira

A Song of Relationships Found and Lost

By Lauren Yarger
Bartlett Sher expertly directs a strong ensemble cast in a richly compelling revival of August Wilson’s tale of relationships found and lost in Lincoln Center Theater's Joe Turner’s Come and Gone playing at Broadway’s Belasco Theatre.

The second in Wilson’s 10-cyle decade-by-decade chronicle of the journey of African Americans through the 20th century, Joe Turner’s strengths come in the development of it characters and in the skilled acting that brings them to life. Set in the 1911 Pittsburgh boarding house run by Seth Holly (Ernie Hudson) and his wife Bertha (Latanya Richardson Jackson), the play is a glimpse into two weeks in the lives of people still trying to find their way in the years following emancipation.

Herald Loomis (Chad L. Coleman), a mysterious wanderer looking for his wife, arrives with his daughter Zonia (Amari Rose Leigh). Jeremy Furlow (Andre Holland) offers to take up with Mattie Campbell (Marsh Stephanie Blake) who has been abandoned by her man, until Molly Cunningham (Aunjanue Ellis), a more interesting conquest arrives at the boarding house.

There’s also Bynum Walker (Roger Robinson) a Hoodoo practitioner, who sacrifices pigeons, casts spells using roots and has the gift of “binding” people to one another. He enlists the services of white peddler Rutherford Selig (Arliss Howard) to help him find a “shiny man” who once shared with him the secret of life. Loomis also asks Selig to use his “people finding” skills to help him locate his wife Martha (Danai Gurira), from whom he was separated when a man named Joe Turner forced him into seven years of servitude in Memphis.

Interspersed in the slice of life are some visions (Loomis sees people made of bones walking on water), some Zuba, an African dance ritual that ends in a Pentecostal-like religious experience and Loomis denouncing his ties with Jesus and the church and cutting his chest in an act of independence, when he finally learns how to "sing his song." Some of these experiences are rather confusing and seem to come from nowhere and leave audience members questioning each other at intermission and after the show.

Also confusing and distracting are Michael Yeargan’s mobile set pieces. Tables, windows, doors, etc. suddenly move onto or off the stage in the middle of scenes when there seems to be no need. Later, when the family is gathered, the dining room table suddenly is missing, again with no apparent reason why. The rest of the design team (Catherine Zuber, costumes; Brain MacDevitt, lighting; Scott Lehrer and Leone Rotherberg, sound) delivers and original music from Taj Mahal combines to create an atmosphere of reality countered by the mystical.

The real treasure is in the characters, whether sharing complicated relationships or the sweet joy of a first kiss (Michael Cummings plays the young neighbor who becomes Zonia’s boyfriend). We feel like we’ve been able to peer into the window of the boarding house and understand better what it was like to be one of the boarders there.

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone plays through June 14 at the Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street, NY. Tickets are available by calling (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250 or by visiting

Christians might also like to know:

• Sex Outside of Marriage
• Hoodo (African based religion where luck and love are conjured)

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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