Reviewed by Gregor Collins
Normally I feel I owe it to a play to let it marinate overnight before putting fingers to laptop, but it’s nearing midnight and I’m not leaving the light of my MacBookPro until I sweat out some of the intensity I absorbed at the premiere of Master of the Crossroads—the new play at the Bridge Theater written and directed by Obie Winner and character-actor-you’ve-seen-in-almost-everything, Paul Calderon.
Out of all the 93 credits Calderon has listed on IMDB, you probably know him best from his only line in Pulp Fiction—“My name’s Paul and this shit’s between y’all”—a line that I and millions of other 40-year-olds have eternally burrowed in the bellies of our brains.
In the first few moments, as the theater turns black and the sound of discordant jazz music fills the room, you just have that feeling. Set in the ghettos of Baton Rouge, Yolanda (Sarah Kate Jackson) has just stopped by the house of her ex-husband Cornbread (Nixon Cesar), to drop off his medication. There she discovers he has a stranger tied up to a chair at gunpoint, threatening to crucify him. She flees to the house of Cornbread’s estranged brother Jim-Bo (Obi Abili), where the play begins, pleading with him to go over and confront his brother, who is an Iraq War Vet with P.T.S.D.
In the middle of getting dressed to go to church, at first Jim-Bo brushes her off, but it doesn’t take long for Yolanda to rope him into her hysterics to where the guilt proves too much.
The rest of the play is one of the most physically intense hours of theater you’ll ever see. There’s a reason the Playbill warns in bold italics: Please note that this production features nudity, racist language, and graphic violence in a very intimate setting.
At first it’s clear what’s to play out when Jim-Bo arrives at Cornbread’s house: Jim-Bo, the pacifistic, church-going boy with his wits about him, and Cornbread, the crazy loon answering the door buck naked with a shotgun trained at the peep hole. But as each of their pasts scream to the surface, new information rears its ugly head – Jim-Bo also was an Iraq War Vet with severely unresolved P.T.S.D., at times even more unhinged and amplified than his “certifiably insane” brother’s.
Crossroads is the theater experience equivalent of a Rothko painting—you don’t really go to see it for the form or the shape or even the story, you go to have it make you feel something, to take you on a visceral ride. A drama about mental health and who we turn to for help when no one else will, it’s a sit-back-and-be-prepared-not-to-so-much-as-itch-an-itch type of play from beginning to end. At points the broken brothers are going at each other with such impassioned volume, I wondered if they could be heard all the way out on 8th Avenue.
With Sarah Kate Jackson’s jittery Southern drawl that had her bobbing and twitching around the stage like a young Kathryn Hepburn on speed… to Abili’s quiet elegance that turns on a dime… to Cesar’s almost frightening Herculean explosiveness – give them all Tony noms. There, I said it.
MASTER OF THE CROSSROADS runs January 16 – February 9, Wednesday – Saturday at 8pm. The Bridge Theater is located at Shetler Studios, 244 West 54th Street between 7th & 8th Ave.
Tickets are $18 at https://masterofthecrossroads.brownpapertickets.com/