By Sheri Berger
Nebraska Repertory Theatre, Lab Theatre, Saturday March 26, 2022 7:30PM
Traveling Shoes, brought to us by the partnership Nebraska Repertory Theatre has with the St. Louis Black Repertory Company, is an evening filled with energy, powerful poetry, prose, and chants interwoven with music and dance. The music varied eras and circumstances, from many African American Spirituals, to an Irish Folk Song, to several Civil Rights Tunes of the 1960’s. This is a devised piece, and cast members submitted their own pieces, quotes, and suggestions of music. All of this couldn’t be done so well without the electric energy, righteous indignation, and provocative performances the cast evoked.
The cast itself was particularly stunning. Voices of all colors kept the stage alive and flowing. Often you will see members of the cast giving each other a helping hand off of the risers, or walking arm in arm. What seems like a small gesture of the closeness of the cast is very much the whole reason for the production – which is love, hope, and taking the journey to oneness together after hundreds of years of turmoil.
Though the production promotes oneness, it reminds us of our painful past, and especially our painful present. The production addresses slavery, oppression, segregation, discrimination of all kinds, ignorance, immigration, gun violence, our problems at the border, sexual orientation, Black Lives Matter, and Asian hate. All of these issues and the remnants of them still plague our society today and keep us from moving forward. The cast did a fantastic job at moving around all of these issues and emotions ranging from righteous indignation, to anger, to delivering their message of hurt, but also of hope and love for a united future.
Director Ron Himes is well-known for telling stories in the format of plays, but in this production, he masterfully merges quite a bit of music into each message. It is a wonderful choice since music is such a unifying and emotional way we all understand the world and each other.
The cast consisted of many accomplished voices. Some of the solos performed by the cast, such as Calli Mah, a Senior at UNL, showed a vast vocal range and soft flowing voice; Mia Hilt, a Senior at UNL confidently showed her leadership, dance, and harmonization; Seamus Doyle, a Freshman at UNL, gave a thoughtful rendition of the Irish Folk Song, “Royal Canal.” Henry Walter, sang a rendition of the “Border Song” so believably in Elton John style, you would think it was Elton himself.
Of particular note, Brannon Evans, a junior Theatre Performance Major at UNL, was an incredible force on stage. Brannon’s strong and finely tuned voice, and noticeably easy comfort level on stage was a true pleasure to watch. In addition, Lucia Graff, a third-year UNL Theatre Performance Major, joined her in many of the pieces, and had a distinguishable and beautiful voice and presence on stage.
Cast members Mariana Hermosillo, Efren Gonzalez-Ortega, Daniel Arevalo, Trace Harre, Imonie Jones, Bruno Adrade, Mekhi Mitchell all did an incredible job with their monologues, selection of quotes, and prose, and selection of songs. Each added their amazing energy to their pieces. Some of the poems and prose were delivered in Spanish as well as English. The audience will recognize quotes from Martin Luther King, John Lewis, Nelson Mandela, and many more prominent figures.
If you go, be sure to notice that the production is on the 3rd level of the Temple Building (the building with the new sign on the outside!), in the Lab Theatre, the more intimate blackbox theater space where Theatrix usually performs. This type of space is one of my favorites, not only because it is so much less formal than the usual theater space, but I also really enjoy the minimal and innovative stage scenery this type of space encourages. The scenery was done by Bradlee LaMotte, Stephanie Schlosser, Joe Shelly Jr, Liam Romano, and Mo Benes. The backdrop was a nicely done abstract painting of Martin Luther King, Jr. with an appropriate quotation. It was very minimal and nicely done.
This is a very inclusive and provocative performance by all of the cast members. As I left the production, I caught a glimpse of the cast celebrating backstage and it really warmed my heart to see them celebrating together. It seemed like a genuinely positive and hopeful display of what we all wish this world to become, and left my spirits even more uplifted for positive change.
Traveling Shoes was conceived and directed by Ron Himes, with Choreography by Heather Beal. Musical collaboration was done by Vince Learned.
Production Stage Manager is Brad Buffum, Annalesse Telford is the Stage Manager. Ann Marie Pollard is the Voice, Text and Dialect Coach.
If you go: There’s only one performance left on March 27th at 2PM. Tickets can be purchased atnebraskarep.org.
Sheri Berger is a business minion, dog momma, arts groupie, and co-host of the Platte River Bard Podcast with her husband, Chris Berger.
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