Polarity’s LEAVINGS is a Must See That Will Not Disappoint

Polarity’s LEAVINGS is a Must See That Will Not Disappoint

(l-r) Emily Radke, RjW Mays, Monette McLin. Photo by Jackie Jasperson

In the wake of a country that is still polarized by racism, Gail Parrish’s LEAVINGS forces us to take a hard look at history through a lens cloaked in accountability, as the play explores the severe impact slavery has had on generations of African-Americans. There is a long line of generational suffering, still evident in many Black families today; that’s deeply rooted in slavery.

LEAVINGS begins to unpack how many slave owners who fathered Black babies, abandoned and tormented their Black children during slavery while leaving them to suffer through centuries of hatred fueled by racism created by their own bloodline.

LEAVINGS hinges on the story of Ms. Beatrice Wiley, played by RjW Mays, who is turning 111 years old. Her upcoming birthday will make her the oldest living woman in Chicago and the oldest from her hometown in Mississippi. However, she is growing anxious as her birthday nears. She works feverishly to save her family in the little time she has left on earth. Beatrice is awaiting a call from Mississippi’s Governor Skinner (Richard Engling) so she can inform him that they are from the same bloodline and she needs him to help reconcile the past so the spirits from her side of the family can rest. The only problem is that the governor is one of the biggest racist, who vehemently condemns African Americans and views slavery as a thing of the past. Beatrice Wiley is certain that the family’s ancestral spirits are in distress and will not settle in peace until all secrets become transparent and all bitterness is sweetened through much-needed atonement.

RjW Mays has the arduous task of carrying the weight of the play. Mays captures the audience through her heartfelt monologues, often paired with her sporadic, yet timely cadence of humor. Her performance often resurrected snippets of familiar conversations in my own family, and how we often leaned on our family matriarch. Mays’ fluidity of the character speaks to the authenticity found in Gail Parrish’s writing.

In his final production and soon ending role as Artist Director at Polarity, Richard Engling delivers a very convincing and chilling role, as Governor Skinner. Engling was able to capture the coldness in the all too familiar racist rhetoric; that tends to normalize slavery, while ignoring the long-term effect slavery continues to have on African Americans. This was a well-developed cast, who worked as a unified nucleus, as they harvest their skills to deliver a stellar performance. A few cast notables, Mutar Thomas who played several characters but who had to channel storytelling through movement and facial expression in the nonspeaking role of Ben (Beatrice’s father). Much praise for Asia Jackson, who offers a convincing child, as Little Bea. While Briana Buckley, who plays Tempe and Sally Slater, effortlessly projects a range of visual and physical emotions that commands the audience’s attention with her genuine connection to both characters.

Director, Ashley Honore Roberson was able to create visuals nuggets, which give life to a compelling and necessary story. Though the script is weighted in heavy dialogue, which often makes navigating a tad overwhelming at times, Roberson does a sterling job in utilizing stage space to amplify critical moments in discourse. Charles C. Palia Jr.’s set design gives the necessary breadth that allows the actors to seamlessly thread genuine moments in time. Greater power would be given to the script if it was shortened.  Significant points in the development of the story are often smothered in the heaviness of dialogue. I’m also curious to see what the script would deliver if pushed further to embellish upon the moments that make us the most uncomfortable. However, these minor nuances are not enough to take away from Gail Parrish’s incredible writing or the power of this play.

In a world that spews so much hate, LEAVINGS reminds us that we are all somehow connected. This play is a must see that is written and directed by two phenomenal women. It will not disappoint!

About author

Naima Dawson

Naima Dawson is a published author, Chicago playwright, and professor. Her career accomplishments cover more than 20 years in Arts Entertainment. Her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago and her Master of Education from DePaul University solidifies her ability to bridge the two worlds between Arts and Education. She is the writer and producer of Your Call! Late Night Improv & Sketch Comedy for Grown Folks, as seen in production at the Apollo Theater and The Mercury Theater.