Ossie Davis’ Purlie Victorious (A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch) is both uproarious satire and cultural gut punch—with the biggest clue in its lead character’s name and the play’s title. A happy ending for Purlie Victorious Judson (the excellent Leslie Odom Jr.) is guaranteed. To get there, the play, first performed in 1961 and now revived on Broadway (Music Box Theatre, booking to Jan 7, 2024), confronts racism in tooth and claw, leavened by the laughter of farce and slapstick.
These two very different dramatic registers echo off the other; the play is serious in intent, and also serious about using humor as its ultimate puncturing weapon against prejudice. Director Kenny Leon smoothly operates the levers to maximize the impact of both—no easy thing tonally. He is aided by a low-key beautiful design by Derek McLane (which has its own luminous swansong), and similarly attractive costumes by Emilio Sosa and lighting by Adam Honoré.
The setting is described as “the cotton plantation country of the Old South,” the time, “the recent past”—i.e., the late 1950s. Within the play, Jim Crow laws are still in effect; the show’s villain Ol’ Cap’n Cotchipee is so ugly in his views and actions, the actor Jay O. Sanders (so good at delivering them) received boos at the curtain call.
Source: The Daily Beast
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