By Daniel Reskin
By Hans Morgenstern
By George Martinez
By Pablo Chacon Alvarez
By Ciara LaVelle
By New Times Staff
By Rich Robinson
By Hannah Sentenac
M Ensemble's first fall production not only begins its new season, but it also opens the festering wounds of America's murky past, offering audiences an elegant yet tragic look at history's harrowing repercussions.
The action in Bourbon at the Border takes places in 1995 Detroit, but the play revolves around the violent events that occurred in the basement of a Mississippi jail during Freedom Summer more than 30 years earlier. When thousands of young activists descended on the Deep South in the summer of 1964 to register black voters, many were met with violent resistance from locals and police as well as white supremacists.
In this powerful show, Atlanta-based dramatist Pearl Cleage poignantly brings the era to life not through the eyes of legendary radicals, but in the experiences of two ordinary civil rights workers Charlie (Kwame Riley) and May (Kameshia Duncan).
From a small apartment with a view of the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Michigan and Ontario, the pair struggles to cope with the inextinguishable outrage that has manifested over the course of the three decades since that unforgettable summer. Their futile attempts to escape the pain of memory has led them "like desperadoes drinking bourbon at the border" to ponder taking refuge in the Canadian wilderness, where they once spent a few happy days. Duncan's haunting portrayal of May, who tirelessly battles to maintain her family's sanity without losing her own, is spellbinding.
The cast of four is completed by Latrice Bruno as Rosa, the downstairs neighbor, and Chauncey deLeon Gilbert as her larger-than-life lover Tyrone. The supporting duo initially provides waves of comic relief and laugh you will whenever the highly humorous Bruno takes the stage but as the plot crescendos to an emotionally intense and heart-wrenching climax, Cleage cleverly manipulates the couple to highlight the grave and widespread ramifications of racism.
At three hours long, Bourbon at the Border would benefit from some savvy editing, but the quartet's chillingly earnest depiction of political and social events offers a tear-jerking, must-see account of the indisputably high costs associated with the ongoing fight for civil rights.