Intiman Theatre gave Seattle a hilarious, heartfelt, and poignant gift last Thursday night with the opening of Bulrusher at the Jones Playhouse in the U-District. Valerie Curtis-Newton directed the performance of Eisa Davis’ script, a 2007 Pulitzer finalist.
The story centers on a biracial orphan, Bulrusher, named for the weeds in which she was found as a small child after her mother sent her floating down the river in a basket. Bulrusher is an odd girl, not only for her name, but for the gifts of clairvoyance that the river gave to her. Raised by the local school-teacher, Scoolch (Charles Leggett), in the tiny Californian town of Boonville, Ayo Tunshinde’s Bulrusher is both delightfully naive and utterly confident in herself. Costume designer Ricky German’s choice to dress her in overalls and masculine flannel give her a Huckleberry Finn vibe, but the aura of youth surrounding the character mostly comes from the Tushinde’s superb acting. Bulrusher is a character who can’t tell a lie, and when Vera (Allyson Lee Brown), the niece of the only other African American in town, comes to visit in the summer of 1955, we see every emotion play out on her face. Tushinde and Brown look at each other with utterly convincing adoration, and Brown’s calm, self-assured performance is a nice counterpoint to the erratic emotional roller-coaster Bulrusher goes through as she’s introduced to both the concept of racial violence, and secrets that have been buried in Boonville for too long.
Reginald André Jackson plays Vera’s uncle, a touchingly maternal odd jobs man competing with Scoolch for the affections of the guarded, business savvy, and acerbic Madame (Christine Pilar). Despite its heavy themes, Bulrusher is a funny show, rarely would more than a couple minutes go by without laughter radiating from the audience, and the core of the humour comes from the back and forth between Pilar and Jackson. Both were a pleasure to watch. However, with a two and a half hour run time, audience’s should be prepared to watch for a while. The multiple scenes in which Bulrusher relates what she’s feeling to the river, her diary, are beautiful but redundant, especially considering how well Tushinde manages to relay those emotions during the scenes being recounted.
Bulrusher runs through September 14th and is definitely worth seeing. Language and mentions of prostitution make it appropriate for a mature audience.
Tickets and more info here.