Review: “The Royale” by Collective Consciousness Theatre

Review: “The Royale” by Collective Consciousness Theatre

It’s an interesting coincidence that Collective Consciousness Theatre’s stirring production of “The Royale” opened only two days after Long Wharf’s “An Iliad.” While they are two wildly different shows, both share surprisingly similar bones. Both are stories told by people of color. Both use narratives based on history to tell a larger, parable-like story. Both use stylized movement and music. Both are about the way society views violence and the perils of toxic masculinity. It’s the ongoing battles that separate the two. For “Iliad,” that conflict is the Trojan War, while “The Royale” centers on Jim Crow-era racism. The hero at the center of Collective Consciousness’ play is a fighter whose biggest opponent is the bigotry he faces on a national scale. This is another great choice for the socially-minded company (henceforth referred to as CCT), even if the production is one small stroke shy of being a total knock-out.

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Review: “Rasheeda Speaking” at Collective Consciousness Theater

Review: “Rasheeda Speaking” at Collective Consciousness Theater

Collective Consciousness Theater [CCT] – New Haven’s hidden gem of a theater company – specializes in plays that facilitate a conversation about race. Their last offering, the incredibly exciting “Jesus Hopped the A Train,” was among my favorite shows of 2018, a powerful look at identity and biases based inside the prison system. Their follow-up, “Rasheeda Speaking,” is softer than most CCT shows. It’s funnier too, more buoyant and it occasionally even flirts with satire. In that respect, “Rasheeda” is a nice change of pace for the company. But it’s also less effective than most shows I’ve seen from them, in no parts due to the fine actors assembled by director Elizabeth Nearing, making an assured CCT debut. The problem here lies in the script by Joel Drake Johnson. It has some fascinating ideas and solid moments, but put up against other works CCT has presented recently, by masters like Suzan-Lori Parks, Stephen Adly Guirgis and Dominique Morisseau, “Rasheeda” can’t help feeling well-meaning but clumsy.

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Review: “Jesus Hopped The A Train” at Collective Consciousness Theatre

Review: “Jesus Hopped The A Train” at Collective Consciousness Theatre

Spoken in Riggins’ hoarse yet commanding drawl, modulating his speed and timbre with the dexterity of a blues guitarist, it’s the kind of moment when a play hits a perfect bulls-eye. Backed up by wonderful performances all around – especially McCarthy who does heart-breaking and detailed work as Mary Jane – “Jesus” is the kind of tough, uncompromising theater that is as philosophically engaging as it is emotionally and theatrically. That’s a rare thing to find anywhere, let alone in smaller professional or community groups. It’s the reason I keep coming back to Collective Consciousness.

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