The very powerful Pullman Porter Blues seems to easily express that taking advantage of people for the way they work or who they are is not right. The beginning of the production is amazing and influential; the actor’s singing really shows how they feel. Everyone in the audience could feel their emotions from the stage and they bring it beautifully into the crowd. The pride that Pullman porters take in their work is really articulated by the scenery; and of course, by the actors. The lighting gives the audience cues about who to watch and who is giving an important speech.
In 1937, slaves are beginning to be free; however, they still need to make a living. George Pullman, a white businessman for trains, hires free slaves to work in his trains. These Pullman porters tend to all white passengers with anything and everything they needed. Eventually, many of the porters feel as if they are still slaves because they work a maximum of 14 hours a day. The pay is enough for the porters to get by, but they figure since they work so many hours, they should get paid much more.
Pullman Porter Blues follows three generations of men: a grandfather, his son and his grandson. The father Sylvester Sykes, played by Cleavant Derricks, is more reckless than the son and the grandfather; however, he seems stronger, emotionally than the other two. The son, Cephas Sykes, played by Tosin Morohunfola, drops out of college, to learn how to work as a porter. This raises much conflict because going to college is the ultimate privilege, and Cephas throws the opportunity out the window. The play takes place on a train and it is the night of a big fight, a white man versus an African-American man. For this African- American fighter to win is a huge deal for these porters. This inspires them and gives them hope to keep going in life and to prosper in whatever they do.
The technical views are very nice. The screen in the background really brings out the scenery, and the stage is nicely propped. The lighting emphasizes the importance of the scenes and the actors; it brings the scene to the audience. The costumes look authentic. The only distracting, confusing scene is when the captain, Tex, played by Francis Guiana, and the grandfather, Monroe Skykes, played by Larry Marshall, are talking. Is it not clear if the discussion is talking place on an actual deck.
The acting is great, the singing is incredible- the projections in their voices are just amazing, and ultimately you feel like what you are watching is something better than just a play. The actors work together well and do an immense job by making the audience believe and feel what they are believing and feeling on stage. No character is underplayed or over-played. The acting is right on point with the emotions flying around. E. Faye Butler delivers an outstanding performance as Sister Juba. She is marvelous at switching from comedy to drama within seconds.
The production interests you in learning more about Pullman porters. It also teaches you that taking advantage of people for what they look like or how they work is wrong, and that sometimes people are not always what they seem to be. There is much more to learn about people than just their name.