Noon Day Sun

PASSING STRANGE Hammond reinvents herself as white.

PASSING STRANGE Hammond reinvents herself as white. Photograph: Rebecca Woodman Taylor

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

Early in Cassandra Medley’s race-driven period drama, Noon Day Sun, Zena (Hammond) is pulled out of a “nigger coach” by a conductor who thinks she’s white. It’s a eureka moment, as she realizes that her looks could provide a passport (albeit a forged one) away from Mississippi’s bone-throwing hoodoo superstitions and her fall-down-drunk, no-good-guitarist husband, Reuben (Jones). The cost of this decision becomes apparent ten years down the road: Zena, now called Wendy and passing for white, is no less fabricated than her fancy clothes and luxurious, chandeliered surroundings. Designer Maruti Evans arcs a gentle semicircle of soft, white curtains around the stage, but figments of Zena’s memory shout at her from beyond the veil, and Reuben reemerges into Zena’s world as a new man (well, a sober janitor).

Medley’s work is rich in figurative language (“Fireflies like gold dust whirling in the night”), but its earthy characters give it weight. Under Victor Lirio’s lyrical direction, Hammond manages to artfully show Zena’s conflict, and not just her artifice; Jones, using Reuben’s past shame to motor his present determination, gives a performance of fierce honesty. Nearly everyone in Medley’s play is passing in some way or other: Zena’s husband is a Catholic who claims to be Presbyterian, and Reuben’s girlfriend, Pearl, shacks up with him every night despite her oft-declaimed Baptist piety. Black or white, the characters all come in shades of gray. Deftly layering melodrama over a headier look at the invention of identity, Noon Day Sun shines brightly.

Beckett Theatre. By Cassandra Medley. Dir. Victor Lirio. With Gin Hammond, Ron Cephas Jones. 2hrs 10mins. One intermission.