Is it fate or just good fortune? On the same weekend the Sacramento Theatre Company opened To Kill A Mockingbird—based on Harper Lee’s legendary novel about race relations and coming of age in a small Southern town—Celebration Arts debuted Yellowman, a much newer play dealing with the same issues. But while Mockingbird is narrated primarily by its white characters, Yellowman, written by Dael Orlandersmith in 2003, tells its story from the other side.
Yellowman is basically a duet of monologues, occasionally merging as a dialogue, in which skin tone comes up again and again. Eugene is a light-skinned African-American or “high yellow” (a term some consider an insult). Alma is keenly aware that her skin is much darker and her body is stocky; she worries she doesn’t measure up when she compares herself to women with lighter skin and classic hourglass figures.
The story, set in a small, dirt-poor Southern town and in New York City, traces this pair from childhood into midlife. We see their difficult relationships with their respective parents, how Alma becomes determined to go away to college, how Alma and Eugene fall in love, and how that love dissolves under tragic circumstances.
The show features two unfamiliar, well-trained actors: Kelton Howard, who came up years ago through the Sons and Pioneers program at CSUS, and Traci Scott, a graduate of the University of Alabama. Howard hasn’t acted locally in years, and this is Scott’s first Sacramento appearance.
The actors’ backgrounds come through. They bobbled a line or two on opening night, but they were strong. Director James Wheatley draws out both joy and dramatic intensity as the story unfolds.