Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Issues in 'Ragtime' still plague the nation


The versatile cast of "Ragtime." (Kevin Berne Photo)

After a two-year COVID-caused delay, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s production of “Ragtime” has finally come to fruition.

It’s well worth the wait. Using only 15 actors rather than the 36 he used in the electrifying 2002 production, the company’s retired founder-artistic director Robert Kelley has helmed a more intimate version of this epic musical.

With music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and book by Terrence McNally, based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow, it stresses the strains of racism, anti-immigrant bias, sexism, anti-Semitism and corporate exploitation that still plague the nation, more than a century after the events in “Ragtime.”

Starting in 1908 and continuing through 1913, these events focus on three groups of people: the white upper class of New Rochelle, N.Y.; eastern European immigrants fleeing oppression and living in squalid New York City tenements; and Southern Black Americans who settled in Harlem and brought their ragtime music with them.

The New Rochelle family includes Mother (Christine Dwyer), her Younger Brother (Sean Okuniewicz), Father (Noel Anthony), their Little Boy (Joshua Parecki in the reviewed performance), and Grandfather (Colin Thomson).

The immigrants are the Latvian Jewish widower Tateh (Leo Ash Evans) and his daughter, the Little Girl (Ruth Keith in the reviewed performance).

The Blacks include pianist Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Nkrumah Gatling) and his girlfriend, Sarah (Iris Beaumier).

Most cast members portray several characters.

The story begins when Mother discovers a newborn Black baby in the garden. Soon the mother, Sarah, is discovered. Over Father’s objections, Mother allows Sarah and the baby to live in their attic.

Devastated that Sarah has disappeared, Coalhouse eventually finds her and visits every Sunday trying to persuade her to see him.

She finally agrees after hearing him play a familiar tune.

Other events involving all of the characters ensue, but everything is easy to follow.

Some of the more notable people seen include J.P. Morgan (Anthony), Henry Ford (Thomson), Booker T. Washington (Michael Gene Sullivan), Harry Houdini (Keith Pinto), Emma Goldman (Suzanne Grodner) and Evelyn “the girl on the swing” Nesbit (Melissa WolfKlain).

Everyone in the cast is versatile and talented, blending well musically, but Dwyer as Mother and Gatling as Coalhouse deliver standout musical and dramatic performances.

Overseeing Flaherty’s ear-pleasing tunes is pianist/musical director William Liberatore with a seven-member orchestra.

The lively choreography is by associate director Gerry McIntyre.

The simple, flexible set is by Wilson Chin with lighting by Pamila Z. Gray, sound by Jeff Mockus and period costumes by B. Modern.

Running about two hours and 45 minutes with one intermission, “Ragtime” will continue through June 26 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View.

For tickets and information, call (877) 662-8978 or visit