Sound Theatre Stages World Premiere of Reparations

The Sound Theatre Company is collectively smiling from ear to ear as they are nearing the end of their successful world premiere staging of Darren Canady’s Reparations. The show has been playing to near sellout crowds night after night; their talented cast is rightfully receiving standing ovations and garnering rave reviews. The successful run winds up on February 2, so you have one more weekend to see what all the fuss is about at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute.

While working with a somewhat limited budget, Director Jay O’Leary makes theater magic with this production. O’Leary has gathered some mighty talented actors and has them tell their story with an unbridled panache. The play’s opening premise is a little goofy: set in the near future in Oklahoma, Rory (a compelling Aishé Keita) is able to activate a kind of time machine by submitting some drops of her blood and its accompanying DNA into a glowing and flashing cylinder. However shaky that expositional premise, the results are genuinely horrific and moving. Rory is sent back to 1922 Oklahoma to witness an attack on her relatives that results in a fire set to their home and the lynching of her great-grandfather. She watches in horror as her cousins cry out “the world is over.”

Accompanied by a somewhat harried guide (Bharan Bikshaandeswaran), Rory endures this harrowing experience so that she can collect financial reparations offered by the state of Oklahoma to any citizens of color that can prove they or their past relatives suffered mistreatment from the state government. For Rory, the money would serve as a ticket out of a dead-end job for which she is grossly overqualified and a stultifying daily grind she lives, needing to care for her ailing grandmother, Billie Mae (the outstanding Tracy Michelle Hughes). Rory is able to convince her skeptical cousin Maceo (Brandon Mooney who ably handles three different roles here) to take one more trip back in time to bolster the validity of their case.

The second trip lands her in 1961 wherein dark family secrets long hidden by Rory’s grandmother are finally exposed. Suddenly the questions of right and wrong and who owes what to whom become a lot more complicated. Upon their return, Rory and Maceo confront Billie Mae, demanding she clarify some of the dark actions they witnessed on their most recent time jump. Here Canady expands on his central thematic question: how important for us is it to right historical wrongs? Billie Mae makes a convincing argument insisting that bad and ugly things just happen. She explains to her granddaughter that for African Americans, yesterday is always darker than today and we have to keep moving on. Rory simply responds, “Move on to what?” She believes that a mark of violence inherited by her race must be starred down lest it fester.

Reparations’ final scenes provide a moving testament to Rory’s family and celebrate the inspirational character trait her people possess: the ability to endure and indeed prosper no matter how hard the road they travel. Rory and her kin proudly call out in unison “Love can’t be slaughtered nor hung from a tree!”

In his program notes, playwright Canady states his wish for all of his audiences, “While we are busy reckoning with sociopolitical realities surrounding all of us, that we can meet the memories and ghosts knit up in our blood with some grace, warmth, and peace.” Not a bad notion to take in as we all start moving on through this new decade.

Reparations will wrap up its run this Thursday through Sunday, February 2 at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, 104 17th Ave South. For more ticket information go to or call 206-880-3947.

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