Wow, this was unexpected. Don’t miss it!
Falcon Theatre’s regular season hasn’t started yet, but they’re already on fire with their bonus production of “Bourbon at the Border” by Pearl Cleage. Torie Wiggins stars as May, married to Charlie (Dathan Hooper). He’s getting home from a stay at the mental hospital after a recent psychotic break – and May can’t wait to have him home. Rosa, May’s friend, played with great humor and timing by Kendra Jeffries, expresses her concerns about Charlie’s stability, but May quickly sets her straight. Besides, Rosa is preoccupied with her relationship with her current boyfriend, Tyrone (the charismatic James Christian, Jr.), and trying to make ends meet.
The story unfolds slowly but with great humor and touching moments. But as things escalate at the end of Act One and then again as we barrel into the thrilling climax of Act Two, we really get to see why Cleage is a brilliant playwright. We also get two masterclasses in acting from Wiggins and Hooper, both equity actors.
Hooper’s presence is captivating from the moment he enters the stage. His performance is full of gravitas; the character feels heavy, and we eventually learn just how much weight he’s been carrying. It’s one of the finest performances I’ve ever seen on the Falcon stage. Wiggins does a fantastic job of motoring along in the show’s early moments, carrying her colleagues through some opening night flubs and jitters. And then, in Act Two, she drops the proverbial microphone with a monologue so heartwrenching, so powerful, and intense that I didn’t dare move a muscle. She is a treasure, and Cincinnati is lucky that she calls this home.
Director Piper N. Davis makes sure to foreshadow the developments in the story through effective yet purposeful blocking. The tone is balanced between the light humor between friends and the high stakes that develop as we learn more about these characters.
The set (designed by Ted J. Weil) is well utilized, and Weil uses effective lighting throughout the production, especially at the end. Tara Williams’s costumes and props are period specific and ground the characters in reality. Both Weil and Davis are credited for sound design; the choice of music is perfect. The technical elements are practical and appropriate – and allow the actors, especially Wiggins and Hooper, to take us on an emotional journey that also reminds us that the consequences of hatred are dire.
There are discussions of sexual assault, violence, and racism. Be advised that this is not a show for children. It will provoke emotion and thought. And isn’t that what theatre is supposed to do?
Bourbon at the Border runs at Falcon Theatre through August 14th, including rare (for Falcon) Sunday matinees. Do not miss it!