by John Gallegos
The St. John Bosco theater program entered 2019 with the task of tackling the play Ragtime: The Musical. A play with a social message that resonated with the audience as the material, although taking place in the early 20th century, parallels similar struggles we face today.
Like many great works of art, there are a plethora of layers to be depicted throughout “Ragtime”. Yet these layers are glaring as they deal with the continuing problems in American society with topics like social justice movements, race relations, immigration, as well as privileges stemming from affluence.
Although these may take place in at the turn of the century, over a hundred years ago the relevance is enhanced in this tumultuous time period we are in.
Malcolm X once said “You can’t drive a knife into a man’s back nine inches, pull it out six inches and call it progress. The progress is healing the wound the blow made.”
Many of these issues have been addressed, yet no true healing has ever occurred as social problems have been drawn out through the last century and carried over into today’s society.
The issues surrounding immigration are not just a topic that just we as Americans are familiar about. The play followed the journey of Tateh, a Jewish immigrant played by Victor Curiel, and the struggles he faced throughout his search and hopes for the so-called American Dream. Although coming from different places and for different reasons, immigrating at this time was still a hot topic and a pressing issue.
The issue of privilege deriving from affluence and authority is another issue touched upon throughout the play in several different ways. Actor Joshua Dreyer played the Father in the play. Father was a character who was extremely wealthy yet received no true repercussions for his actions.
A topic all too familiar at this time as the recent college admissions scandals have been publicized and the means in which certain public figures would get around the college admissions process. The saying goes “access is power”, which happens to resonate with today perfectly, as the access to virtually anything is possible to those with the means to achieve it.
“Ragtime” may brush through several issues that surround us today but none is more glaring than the issue of race and race relations, especially in regards to the African-American community. Taking place during the Harlem Renaissance, black empowerment began to surge and spread like wildfire as people were questioning what does justice mean, and if it has a color.
Newer movements like Black Lives Matter and other self-empowering movements are still asking the same questions. “Ragtime” was able to capture a snippet of what it was like to be a black man at this time. Although we have come a long way from the early 1900’s, we still see residual effects that people have to deal with.
The audience was able to peer into the life of a troubled African-American in Coalhouse Walker Jr. through the portrayal of actor Ryan Jones. He played the position with extraordinary passion as well as a demeanor that captured the attention of the audience with a charismatic charm. Smooth piano playing Coalhouse was willing to put his life on the line, after everything was taken, for what he believed and never lost hope in the Promised Land. Jones took the play over with his extraordinary vocals throughout, even with the extremely challenging task in playing as Coalhouse.
Director Martin Lang said, “[Ryan] is a unique individual who has great strengths and has done a great job with the broad emotions and was able to do it all.”
Mr. Lang also did a stupendous job, especially while challenging the theater program with such a deep and difficult musical. He created a stunning atmosphere through the scenes, as the set was remarkable in achieving its goal. His set didn’t do too much but did the perfect amount to spark creativity throughout the play, allowing the actors and actresses to take the reigns.
“They did an amazing job, as they were given truly tough material that they rose up to produce, but most important of all… they told the story well,” said Mr. Lang
Ultimately, the play “Ragtime” was another success out of the SJB/SJHS theater programs as they gave the audience a memorable performance each and every night.