In the year that the country inaugurated its first black president and in the state that every county was carried by that president's opponent, Carpenter Square Theatre gives audiences the opportunity to reflect on our progress "? or not "? in the drama "The Left Hand Singing," by Barbara Lebow.
In summer 1964, three idealistic college students in upstate New York go to fight for civil rights in Mississippi, where they are brutally murdered. The play takes place between 1964 and 1994 as Lebow tells the story of the students and their parents, who suffer the aftermath of the tragedy.
The play is not about the 1964 murders of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, but it recalls them in an earnest, if humorless and not particularly compelling telling of the tale.
Lebow's script lurches unevenly between scenes at times. In an embarrassing scene, southerners Honey Johnson (Kaicee Mayo) and Wesley Partridge (Collin Andrulonis) indoctrinate New Yorker Linda Winnick (Heather Boothby) about Southern culture with a lot of "y'alls" and cornpone.
The students' parents (Misti Pryor, Tyree "Ty" Donato, Rob May, Lana Henson) evolve over time, dealing with tragedy in different ways. (Their wigs evolve, too.) The parents' evolution is adventitious, and in them, Lebow has written more complex characters. At one point, Rev. John Partridge (May) cruelly compares his wife (Henson) to Lot's wife.
Terry Veal's staging is uneven, too. Sometimes the production comes to a halt when the stage goes dark while stagehands schlepp props on or off. Other scenes blend seamlessly together.
Veal also designed the set, and he has divided the stage in half. One half is Honey's and Linda's cluttered dormitory room, and the other half is bare, where chairs, stools or sometimes no props at all represent various locations. Not surprisingly, the scenes played on the bare half are more effective and theatrical.
The actors seem a bit at sea. The overdone accents "? ranging from Southern ecclesiastical patrician to New York Jew "? are more an annoying distraction than they are character-builders.
For a play that ranges over so much time and space, "Singing" comes to a definite resolution. The parents have their say at the end. Some defiantly move on, and others, regrettably, do not.