Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Harlem Nocturne, a “must-see” show

<lass="page section layoutArea column" title="Page 1">

As a white male, I don’t feel that it is my place to comment on the thematic subject matter of Harlem Nocturne, the Winter Carleton Players Production written by David Wiles. Every audience member brings their own perspective to a work such as this, and I don’t think it’s my place or right to comment on its efficacy. Nevertheless, I quite enjoyed the play and think it’s a must-see.

The main theme of the play blurs the line between what it means to be white and black in the midst of the Harlem Renaissance in 1927, right before the Great Depression.

The main conflict surrounds the ability of the two main characters, Jane and Retta, to “pass” as white despite identifying as black women. This topic creates long form discussions about the politics of passing as and wanting to be white versus identifying as and enjoying blackness, and the progress that needs to happen to stop discrimination. David Wiles plays with topics that are just as relevant today as they were in the 1920s and creates dialogue that is equal parts gripping and comedic, which helps break up some of the more intense moments.

While it’s not my place to critique the content of the play, I do feel that I can comment on the staging, costume, accents and overall presentation of the play, which all contribute to the complexity of the story. Firstly, the stage and seating is set up in a unique and confusing manner: the stage is divided into three distinct sections which delineate an outdoor patio, a bar and a restaurant. Each section has different rules with regards to race relations and the amount of alcohol that is consumed. This introduces a creative twist to the spacing, but the audience is not always in the best position to appreciate this perspective, so it fell flat at points.

The audience is broken into three small sections, the traditional front section and two sections that flank the sides of the stage. Each side gives a different perspective on the play due to the visibility of the characters. Having sat on a side, characters often had their backs to our section, which was quite frustrating and hard to interpret in a usually audience-catering medium. It is possible this is intentional and the three perspectives is another challenge the play offers the viewer. However, I recommend the middle section for a more traditional theatre experience. The play might put the viewer in unusual seating, but this mirrors the play’s broader themes and helps the viewer feel some of the frustration the characters meet.

On the other hand, the accents, most notably by a drunken Scottish character, added depth and comedic relief to the many honest and alcohol-fueled conversations in the script. Additionally, the costumes, 1920s formal dress, transports the audience back to a time when dressing up was a necessity, not an afterthought. Wiles, the cast and crew don’t miss a step and challenge the viewer’s perception of what it means to occupy a certain race. The play might be difficult to see, but so is the narrative. Race can be interpreted from a multitude of important and agonizing perspectives, and Harlem Nocturne eloquently captures it in the context of a monumental moment in African-American history. See it this weekend. You will enjoy every minute.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *