Josh Ryder has risen to dizzying heights
in the years since the Civil War. A pillar of his community and leader
of the Blue Vein Society, which allows membership only to the
light-skinned of impeccable lineage, Ryder is planning a ball to
celebrate his engagement to the much younger Molly Dixon. At his
doorstep arrives Liza Jane, a humbly dressed woman who asks his help in
searching for her husband, who has been missing since the end of the
war. Liza Jane’s appearance sets into motion a crisis for Ryder, who
suddenly has to grapple with his own identity.
As directed by the playwright, The Blue Vein Society
honors the conventions of the melodrama to riveting effect, although at
times it seems to move at a stately pace. The play’s trio of actors
performs with an appropriate intensity and attention to period detail.
As the middle-aged Josh Ryder, Ryan Travis is clearly a young man
playing older. Without the physical and emotional heft that comes with
middle age, he often resorts to bluster. Radiating poise, intensity and
fierce intelligence as Liza Jane, Annette Adams-Brown centers the
production. Her final confrontation with Travis brings out the best in
the younger actor as he finds the play’s emotional center. Looking like
a Gibson Girl, fresh-faced Kristina Miranovic plays the fiancee Molly
with wide-eyed innocence and clarity of diction.
Sweat, adapted by George C. Wolfe
from a short story by Zora Neale Hurston, displays the mixture of
mischief and rage that illuminates much of Hurston’s work. Wolfe’s
sprightly adaptation concern the put-upon Delia Jones, who takes in
wash to support herself and her abusive husband, Sykes. When the
philandering Sykes plots to remove Delia from her home so he can move
in his latest girlfriend, his scheme backfires into exquisite irony.
Unfolding the slim play in a way that highlights Hurston’s
folktale-like style, director James Miller creates arresting images
which sometimes seem a little crowded on the stage of the Robeson
Company’s Dee-Davis Room.
Tinuke Oyefule plays Delia with
sensitivity and detail, never letting the downtrodden heroine slide
into the maudlin. As Sykes, Ryan Travis (in a more age-appropriate
role) is a towering menacing figure. Sweat’s sterling ensemble
cast, mostly culled from the Syracuse University Drama Department, also
includes Anne Childress, Kellen Law, Dexter McKinney, Michael Odofin,
Jon Schoss, Devon James Stewart and Lauren Krystal Waters.