The minute Claudette Sullivan is arrested for bringing her 4-year-old daughter into a “white only” bathroom in Company One’s “The Good Negro,” the audience is transported to the civil unrest of Birmingham, AL circa 1962. And thanks to the keen directorial eye of Summer L. Williams, this visit is disturbing, revolting and yet fascinating in terms of its authenticity.
In lesser hands, the piece could easily become convoluted, but Williams imbues each character with an unwavering devotion to their own convictions that keeps them from becoming anything larger than vulnerable men and women trying to survive in turbulent times.
As the Martin Luther King-inspired Rev. James Lawrence, Jonathan L. Dent nicely crosses the lines between civil rights leader, opportunist and womanizer without committing fully to any of them. Cliff Odle brings great grandeur and humor to Lawrence’s sidekick Henry Evans while Marvelyn McFarlane single-handedly drives home the horrors of racism as Sullivan.
Greg Maraio is so creepily convincing as racist loser Gary Thomas Rowe Jr. that it’s hard to resist jumping into the fray and giving him a well-deserved punch. But even Rowe’s motivations, though abhorrent, become a little easier to understand as the lines between good and evil begin to blur.
Thankfully, seeing the foibles and character flaws of great men and women only serves to make them greater.
‘The Good Negro’
Through Feb. 6
BCA Plaza Theatre
539 Tremont St., Boston
MBTA: Orange Line to Back Bay
$30 -$38, 617-933-8600