Arts-Louisville Reviews
News, Reviews and Interviews


Performing Arts

October 29, 2017
 

It’s Complicated

Ebony Jordan, Jay Padilla, Jennifer Thalman Kepler, & Phil Lynch in Carefully Taught. Photo by Holly Stone.

Carefully Taught

By Cheryl L. Davis
Directed by Kathi E.B. Ellis

 

Review by Keith Waits

Entire contents copyright © 2017 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved

The words “carefully taught”, drawn from a song in Rogers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific, promise artistic green vegetables, an edifying moral lesson about the origins of racial prejudice in American society. Cheryl L. Davis’s play contains exactly such a lesson, but it is wrapped in an equally edifying story complex enough to promise something other than simpleminded answers.

Two Social Studies teachers in a public high school have been close friends for years, and each has a teenage daughter, who are also friends. Alice (Ebony Nolana Jordan) is black, and Claire (Jennifer Thalman Kepler) is white, and when financial cutbacks force Claire to be dismissed, the principal, Michael (Phil Lynch) is frank about the fact that letting Claire go is partly because he would rather not face the prospect of firing the only black teacher in the department. After much soul-searching that includes talking it over with Alice, who expresses her total support, Claire files a lawsuit for discrimination against the school district.

It begins a journey that will test the limits of friendship both for the two women and their daughters, as well as the community and a Senate race in which the incumbent (Lynch again) faces a challenge from political aspirant Michael. The story gets distorted by a local media personality (Jay Padilla) who shapes the facts to fuel her own professional ambitions. Padilla also portrays a young teaching assistant and does bravura work with an extended scene giving a deposition in the legal process. It is a further glimpse into the price of addressing such questions and the perils a lone individual faces exploring their own conscience under oath.

Davis assiduously develops the two relationships between women with care and attention to detail, and she explores the stress and potential dissolution of those friendships with equal scrutiny. It is fascinating that both the mothers and daughters are played by the same two actors, but they switch families so that Thalman Kepler is Jordan’s daughter and vice versa. It’s not exactly color-blind casting since the choice seems to be made with great intention, and Claire’s daughter, Charlotte (Jordan) is accused of being an “Oreo” because of her embrace of what she understands to be the vernacular and fashion of black culture, so that the fact that she is portrayed by a black actor becomes another level of investigation.

Having Phil Lynch play, in addition to Michael and Senator Slaton, The Reverend, a black community leader, reinforces that mash-up in the casting. It is a testament to each of the cast that they never step into caricature, and Mr. Lynch acquits himself well in one scene in which he must essay all of his three characters in the course of one television appearance. Lynch, Jordan, Thalman Kepler, and Padilla all establish the distinctions between their multiple characters with little fuss and great subtlety.

Looking for Lilith has long made a virtue of mounting productions in unorthodox spaces, and The Kentucky Center for African American Heritage, while appropriate thematically, can only provide fluorescents to light the stage, but pieces and costumes are economical, and the emphasis on human performance carries the day over the limitations of the space.

Carefully Taught shows the conflict between the public discourse when racial discrimination hits the headlines and the day-to-day reality for the individuals experiencing it. In the end, both Alice and Claire come to new realizations about themselves and each other that will forever change their lives, and the question of whether their friendship will survive is left for the audience to ponder. This is the personal face of institutional racism in society, and it turns up in ways we might never have anticipated.

Carefully Taught

October 26 – November 4 2017

Looking for Lilith Theater Company
At The Kentucky Center for African American Heritage
1701 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd.
Louisville, Kentucky 40203
502-713-6178
lookingforlilith.org

 

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.

 





Fifth Third Bank Kentucky One Health Hilliard Lyons Brown Forman Aesthetics in Jewelry Louisville Marriott