Writer: Ericka Dickerson-Despenza
Director: Candis C. Jones
Reviewer: Adrienne Sowers
It has been nearly a century since the world experienced its first radio play. In the interceding years, entertainment and culture have evolved, with storytellers finding new ways to share their work with audiences. With live performance and movie theatres (remember those?) as well as streaming, cable, and podcasts, modern audiences have a variety of mediums to utilize for their aesthetic experiences. So The Public Theater’s return to the radio play (in digital format) is compelling and refreshing, and not just because live performance venues are currently shuttered.
Ericka Dickerson-Despenza’s SHADOW/LAND is an audio journey through one mother and daughter’s experience with Hurricane Katrina, the first of a ten-play cycle exploring the diaspora resulting from the devastating storm. With sumptuous language and a gripping narrative, Dickerson-Despenza’s work revitalizes the radio play. Stellar performances by Lizan Mitchell (Magalee) and Michelle Wilson (Ruth) carry this achingly beautiful play through the audience’s ears and imagination. The narrative is supported by a phenomenally immersive sound design by Palmer Hefferan featuring music by Delfeayo Marsalis.
With soaring poetic dialogue that remains grounded in the world of the play, SHADOW/LAND explores themes of longing and loss, of past versus present. It lays bare the sheer terror, agony, and helplessness of people who were stranded in flooded homes for days after Katrina ravaged New Orleans. Immediate and generational trauma demand the characters’ and the audience’s attention as Magalee and Ruth struggle for survival and hope before, during, and after the storm.
For those who are uncertain as to how they may listen to a radio play without feeling restless, this is, quite frankly, a non-issue. Director Candis C. Jones creates such a riveting production that one’s couch practically becomes Shadowland, the landmark jazz club and hotel. One can feel the waist deep water, the chaos among the stillness. With a tremendous sense of urgency, SHADOW/LAND takes hold and maintains its grip long after its final moments.
Available Through 13 April 2022 | Zoom Rehearsal Photo Credit: The Public Theater