A Feeling of Hope for the Future
This past Saturday I went to see the play Pullman Porter Blues at the Goodman Theater. It was written by Cheryl .L West and directed by Chuck Smith. The play follows a grandfather, a father, and a grandson all working as Pullman Porters on a train from Chicago, IL, to New Orleans, LA.
The play starts out with the grandfather Monroe Sykes (played by Larry Marshall) telling his grandson Cephas Sykes (played by Toson Morohunfola) about working on the train and what expected of him and Pullman porter. Soon guests began to arrive onto the train, and Sister Juba’s band (played by Jmichael, Anderson Edwards, Chic Street Man, and Senuwell L. Smith). Music flows through the theater of 1930s Chicago jazz. When we meet the glamorous, Sister Juba (played by E. Faye Butler) she is sitting on her suitcases drinking alcohol, singing loudly. This gives the feel of the 1930s in Chicago with jazz glamour and laughter.
The play escalates with Cephas father (Monroe’s son) Sylvester Sykes (played by Cleavant Derricks) when he disapproves of his son working as a Pullman porter. Tension also rises with the conductor, Tex (played by Francis Guinan) and Sylvester with the social issues of union works at the time. At this point in the play you can see the three layers of times in one setting. Monroe the grandfather is more of the agreeing type and does his work without question vs. Sylvester the father, who is one who won’t back down for what he believes vs. Cephas the son who does his work but puts up a fight if needed.
As the play goes on we meet one more character named Lutie (played by Claire Kander) who is a homeless woman who plays the harmonica and becomes friends with Cephas. Since it is against the rules for non-paying passers to ride Cephas calls on Sister Juba to help his new friend Lutie. Lutie and Cephas talk awhile about dreams where Cephas tell her that he doesn’t want to go to college to become a doctor but a teacher instead. Lutie then helps him get courage to tell his father.
As we get deeper into story we find that Sister Juba and Sylvester used to love each other but were torn away by horrific incident done by Tex the conductor that resulted in Sister Juba having a child. Tension has reached its peak and Tex tries to force himself on Lutie but Cephas fought back, making the Sykes Pullman porter men bond against the drunken Tex. By the end roles had changed. Monroe became the one who did his work but fought back vs. Sylvester became the one who did his work without question vs. Cephas the one who wont back down from his beliefs.
I thoroughly enjoyed this play. You can easily relate to the joy and pain of life. The music reflected what was happening in the play, making the scenes even more intense. The actors were phenomenal; the emotion that they brought really made it easy to feel what it was like to be in their shoes. The transformation of the Skyes men, from not standing up against Tex to finding their voice at the end, gave the ending a feeling of hope for the future.