by Will Demers

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday May 1, 2018

Charlie Thurston and Olivia Miller in "Ragtime" at the Trinity Repertory Company through May 27.
Charlie Thurston and Olivia Miller in "Ragtime" at the Trinity Repertory Company through May 27.  (Source:Trinity Repertory Theatre)

E.L. Doctorow's mid-seventies novel focusing on three families in turn of the century New York could have been written in the last decade; as we examine our past in this country it makes a point of racism, social class and immigration. Coincidentally we are examining these issues at the very moment, given that we're experiencing a divide politically. So it's no coincidence that "Ragtime" closes the current season at Trinity Repertory Company.

Set in 1906, and introducing a wealthy white family: Father (Mauro Hantman,) Mother (Rachael Warren,) Younger brother (Alexander De Vasconcelos Matos) and Boy (Evan Andrew Horowitz.) While gardening mother finds a half-buried black infant and takes it in. The mother is Sarah (Mia Ellis), its father is Coalhouse Walker, Jr. (Wilkie Ferguson III), whose life takes him on the road as a musician, leaving Sarah alone. And rounding out the third family is Tateh (Charlie Thurston), and Girl (Olivia Miller), his daughter both arriving from Latvia in the hopes of escaping a life of poverty in a country which promises a dream of opportunity.

Surrounded by actual historical figures of the period, including Booker T. Washington (Taavon Gamble,) Evelyn Nesbit (Rebecca Gibel,) Harry Houdini (Stephen Thorne) and J.P. Morgan (Fred Sullivan Jr.) They're woven into the story in a rather grandiose way, Black, White, and Immigrant are center stage, and this is the magic of the story. Albeit sometimes heavy-handed, this production does something to lighten the moods where family is concerned. Director Curt Columbus gives us a splashy production where the focus is on the story, racial strife, poverty, socialism and class circles are all here.

The journey of the vastly different families converges and we see the worlds colliding, as the show opens our protagonists are dressed in familiar street clothes: by the end of the first act they're donning period costumes. Serving to bring the story relevant to current audiences is never so masterfully pointed as when Mother rips off her dress and corsets "Back To Before" as we're reminded not only that her world is changed, but our modern world still has the same issues. Choreographer Sharon Jenkins has our families and ensemble twisting around each other, dancing as if taunting like children. Its subtle bits like this that takes "Ragtime" from dark allegory to uplifting love story.

The cast brings the show to passionate life with some truly inspired performances. Hantman's Father is clearly an absent figure, coming into his own only when things get tough for his family, he is excellent. Warren's mother is strong and emotional, she is incredibly deft at these kinds of roles, and that voice is wonderful. Horowitz' Boy is an absolute delight as the precocious young man. Both Thurston and Miller embody the foreigners in the new land, her voice is incredibly sweet and strong, his is the fire of a man looking to give his daughter everything she wants.

Ferguson and Ellis as the doomed Sarah and Coallhouse are fantastic. This reviewer had never heard Ellis sing; her voice carries the melody as well as her heartbreak, no small feat. And Ferguson has a strong presence physically but tempers it with a solid vocal style which highlights his anger and disappointment in his situation. The ensemble is every bit as strong as our leads and weaves their magic into an inspired production that doesn't rely on flashy set pieces to drive its story forward, just raw human emotion. Run, don't walk to buy your tickets to Trinity's latest. Even if you have no inkling of what the story will bring, this "Ragtime" cannot be missed.

"Ragtime" is running through May 27th at Trinity Repertory Company 201 Washington Street, Providence, RI 02903. For information or tickets call 401-351-4242 or visit www.trinityrep.com.