Wednesday, February 4, 2015

SAFE HOUSE • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (Studio Theatre)

Keith Josef Adkins’ “Safe House” is set in 1843 and centers on two brothers -- Addison (Daniel Morgan Shelley) and Frank Pedigrew (Will Cobbs) who live with their Aunt Dorcas (Kelly Taffe) in Kentucky. They're African Americans who were born free. In 1840's Kentucky, there was a big distinction to be made between freed slaves, and African Americans who were born free, but this play provides a thought-provoking look at what that freedom truly affords and how that freedom is viewed.

Addison's is the first face we see. He's an ambitious, hard-working cobbler who supports his family selling his wares from door to door with affable charm -- his "free papers" always at the ready. He's got dreams of opening up his own shop in the Pedigrew home, but they are just about to finish up a couple of years under house arrest for harboring and assisting runaway slaves. His quick-tempered brother Frank and Aunt Dorcas are less concerned with obeying the rules, though they know their privileges can be snatched away for the smallest violation.
Will Cobbs (Frank) and Daniel Morgan Shelley (Addison).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.
Aunt Dorcas still finds it hard to resist the urge to help neighboring slaves across the Ohio River to the North, and then on to Liberia -- a country settled by American freed slaves. Frank has dreams of his own that don't involve toeing the line, and he tires of his brother constantly bringing him to heel. While Addison is busy working to produce the highest quality shoes to impress the right people, things get complicated when it becomes obvious that the habits of Frank and Aunt Dorcas are hard to break. The Pedigrews also have to contend with daily visits from Bracken (Michael Sean McGuinness), a white sheriff's deputy in servitude himself to a degree, who was childhood chums with Dorcas (a friendship that sweetly hints at something more).
Michael Sean McGuinness (Bracken),
Daniel Morgan Shelley (Addison) and Will Cobbs (Frank).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.
He enjoys coming by for a drop of rum or a slice of pie, but is charged with keeping a close eye on the family until their punishment is up, with tension that builds to a moment that elicits gasps from the audience.

Melissa Maxwell's direction keeps the story moving at a well paced clip, and the creative team contribute beautiful scenic, sound, lighting and costume design. The uniformly strong cast is rounded out by Cassia Thompson as Roxie, a runaway slave, and Raina Houston as Clarissa, a free woman of color whom Addison and Frank have their eyes on.

Daniel Morgan Shelley (Addison) and Kelly Taffe (Dorcas).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.
You can check it out at the Rep studio theatre until the 8th.


Written by Keith Josef Adkins
Directed by Melissa Maxwell
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through February 8 | tickets: $50 - $65
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays to Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 5pm, selected Saturdays at 9pm, Sundays at 2pm and 7pm

Will Cobbs (Frank), Raina Houston (Clarissa), Michael Sean McGuinness (Bracken), Daniel Morgan Shelley (Addison), Kelly Taffe (Dorcas) and Cassia Thompson (Roxie).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic design by Peter and Margery Spack; costume design by Myrna Colley-Lee; lighting design by Mark Wilson; composer and sound design by Scott O’Brien; stage manager, Shannon B. Sturgis.

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