nytheatre.com review by Lynn Marie Macy
Box by Fred Shahadi is a
moving exploration of the risks that oppressed individuals are willing
to undergo in order to obtain their freedom, real or perceived. Director
Clinton Turner Davis has assembled a particularly strong cast: Byron
Utley as Magnum, Craig Alan Edwards as Edgard, Rashaad Ernesto Green as
Toussaint, Harrison Lee as Christophe, and Yvans Joudain as Henry "Box"
Brown, the southern American slave who in 1848 astonishingly shipped
himself in a crate to Philadelphia and to his freedom.
August 15, 2003
The juxtaposition of Henry "Box" Brown’s own narrative with the tragic story of four Haitian refugees who stow away in a cargo container en route to Florida gives the piece a thought-provoking twist of irony. Box also explores themes of spirituality and the nature of liberty itself.
The experiences of Magnum, Christophe, Edgard and Toussaint, who have packed themselves in with a shipment of coffee, reflect a microcosm of the brutal society they are attempting to escape. Magnum declares himself their leader and dominates the others by sheer brute force. When the reality and danger of their situation finally sinks in, each man in turn must confront his fears and past deeds. With the aid of the spirit of Henry "Box" Brown they find salvation in the knowledge that "at least they tried", and that their valor as they strive for freedom, whether successful or not, lends the act meaning.
The most powerful and touching performances of the evening come from the quieter moments of Edgard (Craig Alan Edwards) and Christophe (Harrison Lee) as they face death and bare their souls to Henry "Box" Brown. And here playwright Shahadi (whose name should be on the front of the program, by the way) is successful in putting a name, a face, a heart—a life—to the over-used and de-humanizing term "refugee."
Costumes (Kalyn Shaible), lights (William Grant III), set (Aaron Jackson) and sound (Sean O’Halloran) design are simple but effective and serve the progression of the story.
The first performance of any show has its rocky moments and technical problems are almost predictable. Yet, in this case, I have no doubt that the producer will aid the director and his talented cast to surmount the seeming lack of physical support from the venue. Box assuredly has something to say and as an evening of theatre is well worth seeing.