Monday, February 03, 2020

"Gun & Powder" at Signature Theater

Content warning: historically accurate racism (terms starting with d and m), sexual harassment, onstage pistol usage for armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, threatened murder, and suicidal ideation.

Gun and Powder is inspired by the story of two of one of the playwright's relatives. Family lore about them shifted.

The show uses the ensemble in a Greek chorus narration fashion and as they tell you at the start, you know how family stories are.

It's late 1800's Texas. Twin sisters Mary and Martha Clarke were born free, although their white dad scampered off before they were even born. They work with their Black mom picking cotton and it sucks, especially when a drought means they run short of their quota. Struck with inspiration they go off finding towns where their parentage and therefore biracial status are unknown and they can get into places where they can rob folks with decent amounts if money. At one point one character calls them Robin Hood, but the only folks they seem to be helping are their mom and themselves.

They arrive in an outpost for one last score and encounter Jesse and Elijah. Jesse is white, and the richest man in town. Elijah is one of his servants. Here the sister's goals diverge. Mary is enjoying the good life, being showered with trinkets, and getting the love of Jesse. Martha discovers that Elijah sees her softness, her caring, and also has noticed she is Black, as is he.

So, I'm going to try not to spoil too much, but it was in the second act I wanted the show to delve a smidge further. A clear case of loving the show enough that I wanted it to be a little better.  I am using the term biracial here, but at the time being biracial meant being Black or passing as white. There were no other choices. So Mary realizes the challenge is that marriage to a white man means a life of denial, a life of possible discovery.

And Martha realizes that loving a Black man doesn't quite solve everything either.

The cast, especially the two sisters and Elijah are amazing. The songs are both memorable and tricky, such that I wondered if another cast could do them so well. The costuming flirted with being period appropriate but there was a hoodie and a handkerchief hem. It worked, and fit the theme that this was more of a story about a time than a straight up historical.

My romance and closure loving heart wanted a little more from the ending, but it was a show and performance worth seeing. This cast and these playwrights are all amazing talents.