After speaking with playwright Cori Thomas a day before the opening of Pa's Hat: Liberian Legacy at Pillsbury House (see this earlier Dressing Room post), I thought I had a pretty good handle on the subject it tackled: a return to Africa for an elderly father and his daughter, a good bit of trouble once there, and a scary escape. Now that I've seen it, it turns out I was only partly right.
|Might not get out of this one alive: Regina Marie Williams in "Pa's Hat"|
Pa's Hat is a truly compelling show, but only the first act is the wholly white-knuckle experience I had been expecting. Thomas's stand-in Cora (Regina Marie Williams
) is every bit the enraged American protesting her and her father's imprisonment on spurious grounds; in one very long scene, she does verbal battle with military commander Mambu (CP
2007 Best Actor Ansa Akyea
). Cora is out of her depth, and there's a real sense that the unthinkable might take place.
In the second act, events veer in an unexpected direction, with surprisingly fascinating results. Without spoiling things, Cora's father (a courtly Bruce A. Young) calls upon a past connection, and the context of their jailing takes a U-turn. The ensuing dialogue is a trip back into Liberian history, and the enduring value of friendship and goodwill even when times have turned dire.
Thomas intended her play as a documentary of a trip to her father's homeland that ended up truly frightening. In creating this work, she plays out a web of complex social and historical realities while rendering a human drama that is both hard-edged and laced with sweetness. Here's a production that does justice to all of it.