Set in Pittsburgh in 1904, Wilson argues that the end of slavery has not heralded a new dawn in rights for black Americans. Workers are forced to pay more in board than they receive in wages; families prevented from leaving towns. Racism is omnipresent. "What good is freedom," asks Joseph Marcell's Solly, "if you can't do nothing with it?"
The desperation of men and women who fought the civil war to end slavery and dreamt of a life of freedom results in riots and a fire at the town's main source of work, the local mill.
Citizen Barlow, a young man wracked by guilt for causing another man's death, visits Aunt Esther (fast approaching her 300th birthday) to get his "soul washed". She takes him on a spiritual journey to the "city of bones", a pilgrimage that is supposed to show Citizen the horrors of slavery and the wonder of the opportunities his generation now have.
Paulette Randall's overlong and, at times, slow-paced, production is saved by powerful performances from Joseph Marcell and Patrick Robinson's town sheriff, Caesar.
Robinson shines as the black sheriff spitting with disgust at the behaviour of the town's "niggers" who he claims refuse to obey the law. His cries of "I'm just doing my job" become increasingly desperate as even his own sister turns against him.
While the issues raised could start a thousand discussions and arguments, the production lacks spark. Too few characters develop while too little is made of those who do.
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