Haunted by violence
No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs
Sacramento, CA 95819
They’re calling it the “no” play for an obvious reason: The title of John Henry Redwood’s play reflects the violence and exclusion of the Jim Crow South in which it is set. No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs is the story of the Cheeks family in rural North Carolina in the immediate post-World War II period, and it would be very fair to say that this family is under stress.
Rawl Cheeks (Rob Anthony Gray) must leave for several months to work out-of-state; staying home is his wife, Mattie (Ingrid Pinkett), with their two daughters: 17-year-old Joyce (Brittany Wiltz) and 11-year-old Matoka (Lydia Douglas Lynch).
Then there’s the Jewish researcher, Yaveni Arronsohn (Stephen Kauffman), who wants to understand the relationships between the oppression of blacks and Jews in the rigidly white supremacist South of the time. And there’s also a very scary, veiled, possibly crazy Aunt Cora (Joy Cutts), who wanders in and out of the woods humming to herself.
The mystery is how Aunt Cora got to be crazy, but the answer ultimately boils down to bigotry and violence. The commonplace sexual assault on black women—and its consequences for the victims, their men, and their families—is the theme of this play. It is intense and deliberate. Although the violence occurs offstage, it is described in detail and leaves a palpable texture of shock and trauma over everything.
If ever one were to doubt the existence of post-traumatic stress injury, this play would be useful to disabuse such a fool of the notion. The Cheeks, in ways great and small, are struggling with the effects of the violence done to them.
Although this is an ensemble piece, the center—and a strong one she is—rests on the slender shoulders of the stern and unyielding Mattie. Pinkett imbues the character with an abiding faith and a sense of purpose—to protect and honor her husband and children—that put her in a most untenable position; no matter what decision she makes, someone will be hurt.
Anthony turns in a stellar performance as the struggling patriarch of the Cheeks clan, a man determined to control his rage. The two young actresses playing the daughters are also quite good; Wiltz embodies the teenager who has just discovered that she has opinions, while Douglas Lynch has several scene-stealing moments as a child who, as Mattie notes regularly, “talks too much.”
As a scholar with his own secret, Kauffman is properly pedantic. But Cutts really only has one moment to shine, in a flashback sequence, and she does.
The show moves quickly (still coming in at slightly over two hours, but it does not drag) under James Wheatley’s direction and stage management. He also designed the set, which is a detailed rustic home, complete with working water pump.
Make no mistake, the violence in this story is every bit as ugly as the title, which tells the truth about racism and bigotry as cruelty effecting communities and spread over generations. This wound can only be healed with honesty and courage.