Ragtime: Play Review


Terrence Mcnally’s musical masterpiece “Ragtime” at theatreworks in Mountain View, based on adaptation of Doctorow’s incisive novel, is directed by Theatreworks’ founder, Robert Kelly with haunting music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. 

Doctorow’s sweeping semi-historical novel centers around the 1908 to 1913 time frame when the American dream was just taking shape; a time when people were beginning to raise their voices against capitalism and class, gender and race differences. The story weaves through experiences of three fictional families. In one instance, ironically when the father goes off on a yearlong expedition to the Arctic, it is the mother, his wife, whose eyes open to a wider world. Whereas in Harlem, a talented black pianist is reunited with his true love and the couple hopes to raise together their infant son, only find their dreams dashed, time after time, by racism, injustice, and violence. 

These heartrending fictional stories intersect and weave through the performance, mixing with some of the factual stories of famous figures from history such as Harry Houdini, Booker T. Washington and J. P. Morgan. At the turn of the century, when novel ideas fueled by socialism and anarchism were calling for equality and equal opportunities, there was another revolution in process that impacted transportation and eventually helped transform the agricultural economies into more equitable and prosperous industrial ones. Through the technology and process innovation that came with the assembly line in the making of Model T, Henry Ford paid higher wages to the workers and delivered a simple, reliable and affordable car that an American of average means could afford. . 

This was however, also a time when the calls for equality did not amount to much. Ragtime centers around the heartache of quashed love, dashed dreams, violent injustice, and quietly smoldering anger that will eventually bring about massive transformation from the ashes of those who perished, seeking and fighting for justice. Understandable as the impatience and hunger for change is at these times, such a peek into history is also a lesson in patience for patience is most challenging when we are on a cusp of transformation, as we may be right now, perhaps.

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