If you attended opening night of “The Children of Children Keep Coming” Wednesday, you might have heard intermittent rumbles of approval from the right side of the audience.
They came from Russell L. Goings, the 84-year-old author of the book of that title, who visited Charlotte to see Quentin Talley’s adaptation of his “epic griotsong” from 2009. Goings might have been admiring the care with which Talley condensed his 300-page poem or the love for his words shown by the fervent cast of On Q Productions.
He might also, as a big man crammed into an uncomfortable seat at Duke Energy Theater, have wished for an intermission. Talley wanted to keep the momentum going and didn’t include one, and the 90-minute piece promised in the program ran more like an hour and three quarters.
Talley, who directed and served as narrator, moves the tale back and forth in time. We may celebrate Harriet Tubman’s dedication to the Underground Railroad, then hear about Rosa Parks, then shift back to the false hopes of the Reconstruction era.
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History rolls over us like waves that advance on a shifting shoreline and retreat, bringing progress to the African-American community and then denying it again. Each time the “crows” of racism or segregation don Klan hoods or stand in a schoolhouse door, they’re beaten back by patience and determination.
The cast of seven adults, augmented by seven equally attuned students from West Mecklenburg High School’s drama club, never loses its intensity. Roles have been so evenly divided that nobody dominates, though Kenya Templeton delivers especially apt impressions of Marian Anderson, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald.
Perhaps these students make up the ideal audience. They may not know the icons Talley and Goings invoke, from Joe Louis to Duke Ellington to Sojourner Truth. (Controversial folks don’t get a look-in; I caught a single throwaway reference to Malcolm X and, I believe, Angela Davis.) Some characters, including invented grandparents who share wisdom, come from Goings’ imagination.
Yet if you do know this history, the cyclical nature of the piece can make it feel long. The same themes – a desire for freedom, followed by equally strong drives for self-expression and then equality – ebb and flow constantly.
The 15-minute finale, which recaps all we have heard without expanding on it, repeats the main ideas until the cast seems to go into a holy trance. Perhaps devotion to the text prevents them from realizing their points have thoroughly been made.