No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs
nytheatre.com review by Natasha Yannacanedo
July 12, 2008
In John Henry Redwood's No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs, the Cheeks, an African American family, struggle to survive in racist North Carolina during the last century. A Jewish man, Yaveni Aaronson, provides the family with money as he claims that he is doing research on African Americans. The play's provocative title refers to a sign that Yaveni saw in a town where he once resided—at a time when he denied his Jewish heritage and lived as a "goy." Through the anti-Semitism Yaveni experiences and the violence and racism the Cheeks endure, we see the parallels of their suffering. When one of the characters is raped, we see how they must respond to this act of violence and how an unlikely friendship is forged between the Cheeks and Yaveni.
By far, the strongest aspect of this production is the performance of Patrick Mitchell. He plays the father, Rawl Cheeks. Mitchell is a grounded and powerful presence onstage. In places where the play lacks energy, he breathes vibrant life into the work.
Aaliyah Miller is fabulous as his spunky and intelligent older daughter, Joyce. Skai Konyha is adorable as her chatty younger sister, Makota. Mattie, the mother, played by Pamela O. Mitchell, definitely has some powerful moments on stage. However, she seemed to fumble her lines in some places and needs to have more confidence in her ability to drive the play forward. Russell Waldman, in the role of Yaveni, starts off a bit weak but becomes more grounded and emotionally connected as the play goes on.
Aunt Cora, played by Dana Jones, does not speak for the majority of the play because of her harrowing past; she only hums. Jones has an amazing, soulful voice. Unfortunately, we only hear her really sing once. In the brief moments we do hear her speak, her acting is very powerful. Although Jones is wonderful in this role, she is far too young for the part and I was a bit confused by the casting.
For the most part, S. Barton-Farcas's direction is strong. Her staging is beautiful; she really knows how to create a dynamic picture on stage. I disagreed with one choice she made about having her actors mime certain props. One particular instance that bothered me was the miming of the drinking of water; it came across as fake and was unnecessary because they could have easily used real water.
Gabrielle Montgomery's simple set of a wooden porch conveys the poverty and the feeling of the time.
No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs is an interesting play dealing with the difficult subjects of rape, anti-Semitism, and racism. Nicu's Spoon should be applauded for once again producing meaningful and intriguing work. Their willingness to take risks is needed in today's theatre.