Opening night

Bourbon at the Border by Pearl CleageBourbon at the Border opened this past Sunday; it’s the third and final play in our year-long journey through the works of playwright Pearl Cleage (although we do have one more opportunity to hear her stories before the year is done).

So far this season we’ve explored social tensions and personal dreams in the Harlem Renaissance in Blues for an Alabama Sky, watched a final reconciliation between an estranged mother and daughter in Hospice, and waited for a bus with a fast-talking and ambitious former prostitute in Late Bus to Mecca. Along the way we also spent an afternoon reading and discussing the rarely-produced one act Chain and had the opportunity to talk to Pearl about her characters, her story and her life.

Yeah, it’s been a fun season.

Throughout the year, I’ve talked to audiences about Pearl Cleage’s ability to explore powerful historical issues through the eyes of ordinary people, allowing us to see a personal perspective on events and issues we know from the larger perspective of history. The famous people, the names we know from history books and newspapers, live just off stage – involved with the lives of the characters she’s created, but out of sight so we can focus on the story.

The other thing that I’ve come to love about Pearl Cleage as we’ve gone through this year is that she doesn’t pull punches. She creates a world and stays in it, letting it be real even if it’s dangerous, and letting us love her characters even if they’re dangerous.

Bourbon at the Border is a showcase of both of these elements of Pearl’s writing – the story focuses on Charlie and May, a couple of ordinary people in 1994 who are still trying to figure out how to recover from their experiences as part of the Freedom Summer Movement, registering black voters (and facing white racism) in Mississippi in 1964. The events and people I know from history books (I was still a few years shy of being born yet in 1964) are a part of this story, but by focusing on Charlie and May, Pearl lets us further into the story – we can relate to Charlie and May, and we can feel the effects of that wonderful, horrible summer as they ripple through the lives of ordinary people who made the choice to be involved in extraordinary events.

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