On a day that began with the first snowstorm of the season and ended with the city being covered by a sheet of ice, theater-goers braved the elements to attend Opening Night of August Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” presented by Plays & Players.
Directed by Daniel Student, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” is possibly the most abstract of Wilson’s ten character driven plays, all set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The action takes place in the boarding house of Bertha (Cherie Jazmyn) and Seth (James Tolbert) Holly, who charge their transient roomers $2.00 a week for clean and comfortable quarters and two meals a day. Among their tenants are the young and foolhardy Jeremy Furlow (Jamal Douglas) and the creepy “conjurer,” Bynum Walker (Damien Wallace), whose knowledge of roots and herbs can allegedly cure what ails you, and even get your wayward man to come back home.
Their mundane workaday lives are disrupted when the sullen, volatile and downright scary Herald Loomis (Kash Goins), wearing an overcoat in the middle of summer, shows up at the rooming house with his young daughter Zonia (Lauryn Jones) in tow. The physically imposing Loomis is looking for his wife Martha (Erin Stewart), whom he has not seen in seven years — since the day that he and several other Black men were arrested and put away by a man named Joe Turner. Seth is immediately skeptical, but when the kind-hearted, tolerant Bertha allows him to stay, Loomis hires Rutherford Selig (Bob Weick), a white man who claims to be a professional “people finder,” to locate his wife.
As is usually the case with August Wilson’s work, this is a wonderful ensemble piece, populated by rich and colorful characters. Jazmyn and Tolbert are completely comfortable in the pivotal roles of Bertha and Seth, providing a strong foundation for the production. Damien Wallace is quite captivating as the wise but quirky Bynum, who has convinced nearly everyone in the community that he really does have healing powers.
Kash Goins was riveting in the mentally challenging and physically taxing role of Herald Loomis, a king-sized powder keg who had everyone in the house tip-toeing around him.
Lauryn Jones and Brett Gray, the two young actors in the cast, were exceptional, with their whimsical portrayals in stark contrast to Goins’ weighty characterization. Jones was endearing as the timid but inquisitive Zonia, and Gray, who has an undeniable gift for comedy, absolutely sparkled in the role of Reuben, Zonia’s trusted and valued friend. The chemistry between them was sweet, innocent and believable.
In the directorial department, there were problems with the pacing of the production, with the action nearly slowing to a standstill on more than one occasion, and the actors seeming to “vamp” in places. Even so, August Wilson’s skillful use of everyday situations juxtaposed with complex characters managed to keep the audience engaged.
Simultaneously celebrating 100 years in existence and three years as a professional theater, Plays & Players, which began as a community theater, made a wise choice in presenting this thought-provoking piece by an American master. “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” runs through February 4. For tickets, call 1 (800) 595-4TIX, or visit www.playsandplayers.org. Plays & Players is located at 1714 Delancey Place.
While in recent years we have come to know him as a playwright, director and producer, Kash Goins, the actor, will take center stage when Plays & Players, 1714 Delancey Place, presents the August Wilson classic, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” from January 21 through February 4.
Goins, who presented his latest work, “Single Black Female,” at the Prince Music Theater last July, is possibly best known as the creator and producer of the Philadelphia Urban Theater Festival (PUTF), although he occasionally steps into the spotlight.
“The acting actually came first before everything else,” Goins explained during a recent interview. “I started with Freedom Theatre in 1999. I did four plays with Walter Dallas as an actor. I started acting at Lincoln University. My junior year up there I got my first play, and I’ve been doing things since then, so the playwright/director/producer thing was an evolution off of the acting thing.”
A former pharmaceutical salesman who now owns and operates GoKash Productions fulltime, Goins remains dedicated to his craft.
“I’m very serious about acting!” he said. “What happened is, I’ve have this entrepreneurial thing in me, and I have this pay-it-forward thing, where I want to try to keep doors open and create opportunities, as opposed to just tucking my résumé under my arm and booking everything in Philly, and to try to run around and book everything in New York. I like to try and create a fertile ground where everyone can continue to work, so that’s why I only focus on the acting about twice a year.”
Although his reputation may have preceded him, Goins was simply one of many actors pursuing the coveted role of Herald Loomis in “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.”
“Our theatre festival was going in September, and (producing director) Daniel Student reached out to me,” Goins recalled. “He said, ‘You have the Urban Theatre Festival going on, I want to send some scouts down to look at some of the talent, and could you please also push this audition notice out to your network?’ I responded, ‘Of course, and by the way, I’m going to be coming to audition as well.’ So I was right there among all the people who have worked for me, and we were all going for the same part.”
Starring in his first Plays & Players production with a cast that features Damien Wallace as Bynum, as well as James Tolbert, Cherie Jazmyn, Jamal Douglas, Candace Thomas, Mle’ Chester, Bob Weick, Lauryn Jones, Brett Gray and Erin Stewart, Goins is excited about interpreting the role of Herald Loomis.
“Herald Loomis is a protagonist in this play,” he said. “He’s a man who was free and got caught up in a sweep by a man named Joe Turner who historically would gather up ex-cons or people of questionable character, and just give them false imprisonment for a term of seven years.
“Now, Loomis was an upstanding man who was a deacon in the church, who happened to see some fellows gambling, stopped to try to preach to them, and got caught up in one of those sweeps while his baby was a newborn, and he just disappeared off the face of the earth for seven years. So when he comes out of there, he’s looking to piece his life back together, and that’s the journey that we see him on.”
Tickets for “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” are available by calling 1 (800) 595-4TIX and online at www.playsandplayers.org.
Continuing its theme of tackling classic African-American plays rarely staged by independent African-American theater companies, GoKash Productions is presenting “Fences” by August Wilson through Aug. 4 on the main stage at Plays and Players.
It is a work that won Wilson numerous awards, including the 1987 Tony Award for Best Play as well as the Pulitzer Prize.
“I was always inspired by August Wilson and wanted to pick one of his works and produce it myself,” said Kash Goins who founded GoKash Productions in 2008. “There weren’t too many other companies putting this piece out there so I decided to do it.”
According to Goins, when he first came to the “entertainment landscape I saw lots of producers of African-American material putting on religious or politically-based plays all following similar themes. I decided I wanted to produce works more on the cutting edge and looking at life from a different landscape.”
And so he did, mounting original self-written plays, including the 2009 NYC Downtown Urban Theatre Festival Best Play winner “VI Degrees.” He’s also produced the work of new playwrights in an effort to ensure that their voices be heard. He also established the Philly Urban Theatre Festival in 2010 and re-visited in 2011. The Festival is now preparing for a 2014 engagement.
Goins was born and raised in South Philly with an eye toward becoming an accountant until a chance remark from his high school English teacher. “We were often assigned different readings to do in class and I really got into them,” Goins recalls. “She obviously liked what I did and told me to make sure to get involved in theater when I got to college. I never thought of theater as an art form for me, but when I auditioned for ‘Raisin in the Sun’ at Lincoln University and got a part, suddenly I was hooked.”
“Last year, I appeared in a production of ‘Jitney,’ a play that focused on men in the ’50s and ‘60s and their struggles to produce new worlds and impart wisdom to their children,” Goins said. “African-American men were doing so much to liberate themselves and make a place for themselves in this world, that I wanted to play homage to them as well as study them from the inside out. I felt ‘Fences’ would be the perfect vehicle to help me do that.”
So today, Goins, family man, father of three, actor, producer and playwright is not only producing Wilson’s “Fences,” he’s also starring in it as Troy Maxon, a man who has gone through life in an America where to be proud and Black is to face pressures that could crush a man, body and soul.
“As the lead in the play as well as the producer, it’s a huge job to keep it all together,” Goins said. “But it’s well worth it. I am not fueled by the desire to get rich, or receive notoriety. I am not fueled by anything other than the fact that I have a love and passion for what I do and can only hope that people are moved by seeing it.”
For more information go to gokashproductions.ticketleap.com/fences.