“Did you enjoy the play?” These should not be jarring words. But catching my breath after experiencing Native Son at the Antaeus became neigh on impossible when that question was posed. For 90 minutes I had been submerged in the psyche, experience, history and tumultuous grappling of a man’s assessment of his life, with full awareness that his fate was as inescapable as his past. So “enjoy” was not the first word that entered my thoughts.
The cathartic opportunity of theatre is the chance to inhabit the salient moment of another human’s experience. Bigger Thomas, the “hero” of this tragedy, epitomizes the lack of awareness that we still have in terms of race. While the foundations and attituded revealed reflect the thinking of 1940, it is disquieting to see how much is still relevant and influencing nearly 80 years later.
As a nation we are in the grips of swallowing truths. We are facing the existential crisis of either accepting that there are realities we don’t understand, or we are going to literally consume the truth and replace it with our perceptions and wants. Bigger Thomas lives with that quandary. His alter ego walks with him from the moment we meet him, to the moment when reality strikes and fantasy is dispelled by reality.
This production of Native Son is so excruciatingly revealing of “now”, that it comes as close to theatrical perfection as any show I have ever seen. A full immersion of audience into the hearts and minds of a full spectrum of characters. Self loathing, unbridled passions, inescapable happenstance, misplaced compassion, presumptions and being lost in a world of unrelenting pressures, this is the roller coaster of Native Son. Antaeus stages a production of Native Son that will be spoken of for years, should be seen by everyone, and is a defining moment of the full capacity of intimate theatre.
Miss this, and you are missing the very best of what theatre has to offer.