Playwright: Eisa Davis. At: Congo Square Theatre at the Beacon Street Arts Center, 4520 N. Beacon St. Tickets: 773-296-1108; www.congosquaretheatre.org; $35. Runs through: Nov. 25
Our title heroine was found in the river as a baby, floating in a reed boat among the bulrushes, but the feisty home-schooled adolescent she became is no Moses, destined to lead her tribe out of slavery. For one, the Mendocino County community where she lives boasts only one other African-American citizen. For another, her spiritual connection to the water enables her to foresee the futurea talent engendering the awe and revulsion of her peers.
Audience members desiring a social context for Eisa Davis' coming-of-age tale may note the demographics of northern California in the 1950s, where an economy based in the logging industry renders well-managed brothels a civic necessity, and African-Americans face less prejudice than Native Americans from the nearby reservation. Playgoers seeking a religious analog might view the arrival of young Vera from the urban wilderness of Birmingham, Ala., as a harbinger of the fall from Eden offering Bulrusher protection from the outside world. Indeed, the intruder already carries the seed of knowledge within herVera is pregnant, you see, fleeing the city where she was raped by a white policeman for the sanctuary of her uncle's woodland home and the restoration of her innocence.
It has been long observed that girls on the brink of puberty often exhibit a period of intense attachment to one another before their hormones direct them toward procreative imperativesor not. The unsophisticated Bulrusher forsakes the river as her sole confidante, vowing allegiance to her same-sex comrade and spurning the advances of the wistful boy who yearns for her attentions. There is no turning back the tide of maturity, we know, but as our two pilgrims struggle mightily against the inevitable, the adults who would also deny the deeds shaping their destinies gradually learn to accept their fates as well, finishing wiser and, if not precisely happy, then content.
Davis' pantheistic lyricism could easily dissolve into empty rhapsodizing, but TaRon Patton's savvy direction keeps her actors firmly grounded in their story's progression to make every word carry its full weight in importance, while Andrei Onegin's scenic design puts the pastoral majesty of the Pacific northwest in the forefront of our consciousness (no easy task in the cavernous Beacon Street auditorium). Nature being traditionally represented as female, the major conflicts are shouldered by Ericka Ratcliff, Tamberla Perry and Elizabeth Laidlaw, though Joe Zarrow, Courtney Crouse and Adrian LaMonte Byrd acquit themselves bravely as men worthy of these powerful surrogate goddesses.