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Theater review by Jenna Scherer
Who tells the story of a life when it has ended? And is there ever a coherent way to tell it? These are the central questions of Master, W. David Hancock’s fractured, fractious study of grief, race and history. Part art exhibit and part performance, this Foundry Theatre production is a commemoration and a damnation of a fictional outsider artist obsessed by Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Entering a sprawling art installation at the Irondale Center, theatergoers have a generous space of time to explore Uncle Jimmy’s artworks (vividly rendered by real-life artist Wardell Milan), labeled with yellowed notecards describing their relationship to a mysterious magnum opus called The Illuminated Twain. A variety of visual and sound installations offer a disjointed account of his racially charged, Afrofuturist riff on Huck Finn and his complicated relationship with his family.
Later, Uncle Jimmy’s relatives speak at a memorial service that reframes what we thought the art was about. Mikéah Ernest Jennings and Anne O’Sullivan give powerful performances in this section, working their way through daunting emotional monologues. Hancock’s play is about context and curation: Uncle Jimmy’s works may be called “illuminations,” but they conceal as much they as they reveal. If you prefer cohesive narratives, Master may frustrate you; it’s a postmodern approach to remembrance, with human life treated as both more and less than the disordered scurf it leaves behind. But if you’re willing to explore the edges of a story, it can be a moving and gratifying experience.
Irondale Center (Off Broadway). By W. David Hancock. Directed Taibi Magar. With Mikeah Ernest Jennings, Anne O’Sullivan. Running time: 1hr 20mins. No intermission. Through June 24.
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