The Salvagers by Harrison David Rivers
By: Karen Isaacs - Dec 07, 2023
World premieres can be exhilarating when you discover a playwright you had not known or a work that moves you. In the past, I felt that way seeing the world premieres of works by Athol Fugard and August Wilson.
Now it is The Salvagers by Harrison David Rivers at Yale Rep through Saturday, Dec. 16. Rivers is not a new playwright; I have seen his play This Bitter Earth at TheatreWorks in Harford.
One can see some similarities between the two works. Theatergoers may also recognize the subtle influence of Arthur Miller and Wilson.
The Salvagers takes place in a Chicago winter, as a father and son (Boseman Salvage Senior and Junior) must break down the barriers between them, explore the secrets that have created these, and start to find peace with each other and romance in their lives.
The two, brilliantly played by Julian Elijah Martinez as the father and Taylor A. Blackman as the son, do not know how to communicate. Each holds most emotions inside. They talk in monosyllables; they use nonverbal communication – body and hand gestures to fill in the many gaps. These do not really work. Each also has anger that spills out, often when the two are together.
Like many fathers and sons, conflict and silence are the cornerstones of their relationship. Junior, played by Taylor A. Blackman, is a 24-year-old aspiring actor working in a restaurant and living with his dad. He holds an undercurrent of anger towards his father, which is not explained until later in the play. I won’t reveal it here except to say it involves a secret. Dad, terrifically played by Julia Elijah Martinez, is a locksmith who is also tightly wound. Three women are in their lives: Nedra (Toni Martin) – Junior’s mother and dad’s ex-wife; Paulina (Mikayla LaShae Bartholomew), the waitress who becomes involved with Junior; and Elinor (McKenzie Chinn), the woman dad dates.
Mikael Burke directed this with a delicate hand. The opening choreographed sequence sets a tone that is continued throughout. Similar sequences, all choreographed by Tislarm Boule, add a fantastic touch. The lighting by Nic Vincent, sound by Stan Mathabane, and scenic design by B. Entsminger seamlessly blend the many scenes and locations with minimal props. All, as well as the projections by John Horzen, contribute to the feeling of the cold, snowy Chicago winter which matches the feelings father and son have.
Rivers has imbued the work with much symbolism; some of it is easily discerned, while other parts of it, especially relating to the names of the characters, were explained in the program notes. Did Eric M. Glover, the dramaturg who wrote the notes, really need to be so explicit? Did he really think that the audience would not pick up on the main characters’ last name? I did find useful his explanation of their first name – Boseman, an Americanized version of a German word meaning “bad, poor” and “common, evil.” I thought of the Fugard play, Boseman and Lena. And what was the relevance of knowing that the three women’s names have meanings in French, Spanish, and Arabic?
Meanwhile, the notes indicate that an underlying theme of the play is our names and how we meet the expectations associated with our names. For me though, it is one of a long line of plays about fathers and sons: the way sons judge their fathers and the way they battle them for dominance.
The Connecticut theater scene this season has been short on fine dramatic or comic plays. We’ve had many terrific musicals but few plays.
The Salvagers reminds us of how moving and exciting a play that features an interesting story and terrific acting can be. For tickets, visit YaleRep.org.
This content is courtesy of Shore Publications.