Shadowland Stages is on Fire with East Coast Premiere of Jeff Daniel’s “Flint”
Shadowland Stages in Ellenville, NY is presenting a fiery work of vital importance with a superb cast in the East Coast premiere of one of our finest actor’s plays, “Flint.” The play takes place in this Michigan city and without straining takes on racism, economic trauma, sexism, and religion. Actor Jeff Daniels (“The Newsroom,” Tony nominee for the current Broadway production of “To Kill a Mockingbird”) wrote the comedy for the theatre company he founded, The Purple Rose Theatre Company of Chelsea Michigan.
Olivia and Mitchell live next door to Eddie and Karen. Eddie helped them get the house. Their houses are so close together, Karen can be seen walking naked thru the house next door. Eddie was Mitchell’s boss when times were good at the auto plant, “Generous Motors.” The plant has closed and they are struggling to move on with their lives. Olivia and Mitchell are black, Karen and Eddie are white. Ferguson is brought up early in the play and Olivia responds “Mitchell junior better like playing in his room. He ain’t going out until he’s 30.”
What does losing your job and setting the play in 2014, six weeks before the State of Michigan announced a problem with the city’s water have to do with race? Quite a lot in this play. In this play, the poor are disposable in the eyes of corporations or government and if they just to be black or brown, so be it. “The reason why the water is bad is because we’re black.” “If my water was good, I would be thinking I was drinking white people’s water.” Mitchell has gotten a job at Walmart and is hoping for a promotion. He offers to help Eddie get a job there. “That ain’t me,” responds the riddled with pride Eddie in a ferocious, sputtering performance by Shadowland’s Producing Artistic Director, Brendan Burke. His full wrath is unleashed when denying help offered to him. It is said of him later “the worst thing about being on the bottom is there’s no one to look down on.”
It is an exemplary cast. Jammie Patton is very moving as Olivia is all no-nonsense solicitousness, protective of her infant and one on the way. She can chide the boys angrily about their noise and be caught short perplexed by an unexpected gift of $40. Which leaves her feeling poor. LeeAnne Hutchinson as the ex-stripper Karen is sharp and sweet and finally desperately confrontational to wake Eddie up. Brandon Rubin as Mitchell gets a lot of laughs out of his customer service story about a young volleyball player from the hood of Lady of Our Mercy. His final moments onstage are wrenching. He could break your heart as many have been broken observing this country for the last four years.
The set (Design by Justin & Christopher Swader) is a realistic small house pitched at an angle downstage so we see the kitchen, a small hall leading off and the backyard and fence. Lighting design by Daisy Long and Sound by Jeff Knapp are crucial for a simply transporting beat of theatricality when we jump back in time to the moment Mitchell and Olivia buy their house. “Night Moves” by Bob Seger on the radio was a beautiful touch. Longtime Shadowland collaborator, the director James Glossman has done terrific work marshaling all the forces and specifying symptoms and their onset in presenting this powerful evening of American malaise.
Jeff Daniels founded the Purple Rose Theatre in his hometown of Chelsea, Michigan initially performing out of a building housing his grandfather’s auto shop. Their current season has four World Premieres in a 168-seat house. Since the theatre’s founding in 1991 Daniels has written over a dozen plays and Shadowland has produced “Guest Artist.” This is my first encounter with Mr. Daniels as a playwright and my high estimation of him as a man of the theater (he was in the second Broadway show I saw, “Fifth of July”) has been elevated tenfold. I look forward to reading and finding more of his plays produced.
Shadowland Stages has produced a vital, searing entertainment for these times that will broaden your perspective while moving you ineffably. You will stop in your tracks with your next glass of water.