‘Goosetown; The Devil’s Milk, Part Two’ at Balch Street Theatre offers unique audience experience
Ghosts of every shade lined the walls of the theater as we walked in. The lighting was centered on the angled seating where the audience would eventually sit, casting long shadows and effectively giving us a glimpse of characters that are now long gone, or dead.
A quick introduction to the method of this stage reading by Co-artistic Director James Slowiak, from The Center for Applied Theatre and Active Culture (CATAC) and New World Performance Lab (NWPL), explained the need for the actors to hold their scripts. The constant re-crafting by writer and composer JT Buck made memorization almost a moot point at this stage in the process. We were also assured that what we were about to experience was indeed genuine to the history of Akron. What I saw and heard meshed up well with my limited knowledge of the city.
The directors of “Goosetown; The Devil’s Milk, Part Two” gave us boundaries within which we could find our footing in the neighborhood better known as Goosetown. That they made sure we were standing with our toes dipped in the culture, history and commerce was no coincidence. We were being set up, and rightly so, to hear one hell of a story.
The lights dim, actors take their place, and then the lights go up. Connie, one of two female leads, slaps a beat out on her thigh and opens up with a strong, full-bodied song. One by one other voices join in, soft, loud, meek and cautious. The effect was one that left the audience stunned by the harsh beauty of it.
Thus began the retelling of what happens when men become stubborn fools, women become bitter survivors and men and children are forced to give everything they have to industry. Even the ravaging of a country far away is not left untouched, or un-judged.
We were afforded a glimpse of what could very well have been the lives of people just like us, who walked down our street, and worshiped in our churches. Those men and women whom many of us looked up to? For a couple of hours we can look down upon them and see that they were just men, just women, and not the giants we met in grade school.
It ended as it began; voices echoing back and forth, calling to one another other, finishing one another’s thoughts in song. What happens next, what we see upon the large screen behind the actors leaves us speechless. As the lights fades into utter blackness, we are left with one thought, that this is not the end.
Akron, the old Akron from black and white photographs and yellowed newspaper clippings, was very much alive and center stage this weekend at the Balch Street Theatre.
This script reading is a standalone part of a trilogy of performances, which will be shown in its entirety in 2016 in the same theater. “On the Devil’s Strip: The Devil’s Milk, Part 3,” directed by Slowiak, NWPL co-artistic director and University of Akron Theater professor, will begin development in September. It is funded in part by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and is a project of the New World Performance Laboratory and produced by the Center for Applied Theatre and Active Culture. The story is inspired by the works of John Tully, Joyce Dyer, Vicky Baum and CR Quine.
I highly recommend you book a chair as soon as the new rounds of tickets come up for sale in September for the last public reading. It will be well worth your time.
Jennifer Browning Connie
Robert M. Keith Joe
Laura Stitt Margetha
Brandon Meeker Kennie
DeAndre Hairston-Karim Pigmeat
Mark Stevens The Baron
Alex Nine The Priest
Yulia Gray The Wobbly
Live music was performed by Patrick Altmire, percussionist; JT Buck, pianist; and Wobbly. Kirsten Nicole was the lighting designer and technical director. Inda Blatch-Geib was the costume designer.
Balch Street Theatre is located in West Hill, at 220 Balch St., in Akron.