Saturday, June 27, 2009

Pure Confidence at 59E59

Energetic Run Scheduled to Reach Finish Line on July 3

Carlyle Brown's play Pure Confidence draws on the peculiar history of jockeys in the United States: As this Smithsonian article by Lisa Winkler puts it, African Americans, including slaves, came to dominate horseracing (including the Kentucky Derby) over the course of the 19th Century, but racial discrimination forced many out of the saddle in the 20th Century.

Pure Confidence dramatizes the historic plight of the African American jockey in the character of Simon Cato (Gavin Lawrence, right), a cocky and ambitious slave jockey who aims to buy freedom through his racetrack victories. The drama shows what becomes of his dreams and his relationships with his owner Wiley Johnson (Chris Mulkey, a.k.a. Hank on Twin Peaks), Johnson's wife (Mulkey's wife Karen Landry), and Caroline (Christiana Clark), the slave who catches Cato's fancy.

The material risks coming across as corny and heavy-handed, but the cast and director Marion McClinton (significantly, an August Wilson veteran) do excellent work in maintaining a brisk pace and bringing the characters to life. The end result is a production, by Minneapolis's Mixed Blood Theatre (a "multi-racial theatre promoting cultural pluralism and individual equality through artistic excellence"), that can open an audience's eyes to painful American realities that warrant more public acknowledgment.

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