Imagine that you have the heart of a young child and you’re placed in the center of a candy store. What does it look like when you scan the store with your eyes? What does it feel like to be in the position to feed your face with sweetness? Perhaps this is a somewhat glamorized introduction, or perhaps it’s just the visual magnitude of North Carolina State’s University Theatre production of Ragtime that is so inspiring. The Ragtime experience, under the direction of Mia Self, speaks to the powerful talent of the staff, students, and alumni at the university. Not only was the performance absent of imperfections but the show was also able to strategically expose societal flaws while entertaining its audience.
Inspired by E.L. Doctorow’s novel of the same name, Ragtime juxtaposes the hopes and ideals gifted to Americans with the very elements that dismantle the American Dream. The narrative places the focus on three pronounced characters whose stories introduce the audience to kindness, in the form of Mother, truth, in the form of an immigrant named Tateh, and race in the form of a character named Coalhouse. Mother, played by Nicole Hiemenz, speaks to the very comfort and determination of motherhood that is woven into the threads of great America. Tateh, played by Isaiah Lewis, proves if there is enough passion rooted in one’s soil, it will bear the fruit of success most Americans desire. But most significantly, Coalhouse, played by Byron Jennings, serves as a gentle but powerful reminder that America will not only punch its very own in the face with its prejudices but will also dance on top of your death as if it was built to disdain any degree of unity.
Surprisingly, this production of Ragtime appears to strategically present itself in a manner so unblemished that it could very well be interpreted as robotic and detached. Yet, its significant undertones, themes, and creative, unsullied design work in its favor. From the beginning to the end, the skilled cast performed tirelessly for three hours, revealing a fractured American story that speaks to right now.
Ragtime runs through February 23rd. For more information visit https://theatre.arts.ncsu.edu/2019-2020-season-master/ragtime-by-terrence-mcnally/ or the RDU on Stage Calendar page.