Everyman Theatre is running a heart-felt, brilliantly-acted production of “Berta, Berta,” which originally premiered in 2018 and was a part of the 2019 National Black Theatre Festival. This was originally intended to run at Everyman in 2020. Luckily for theatre-goers, the show is going on now.
This is a wrenching story brought to life through impeccable acting and a script that demands your full attention.
Set in Mississippi in 1920, it is the story of the last night that Leroy and Berta have together. They have not seen each other in three years and in the meantime, she has married, had a stillborn birth, and been widowed. Leroy seemingly dropped off the face of the earth and has just reappeared at Berta’s farm.
Berta initially appears less than thrilled with his arrival. When we first meet them, she has been trying to wash the bloodstains out of his shirt, and he’s being cagey about where he’s been. As Berta, Myxolydia Tyler is so strong and nuanced — very inch the equal to Leroy in love and anger — that you don’t realize until the curtain calls that she’s about a foot shorter. Her physical presence is regal. She doesn’t care to hear excuses. This woman demands and gives honesty.
Leroy is a haunted, and hunted, man. He has made a bargain with the devil, in a way (in this case, the spirit of the cicadas) that has allowed him to see Berta again to beg for forgiveness, to atone, to love her a lifetime’s worth in one night, and to leave her with a gift.
Being Black in the deep South, one can’t count on a happy ending. One of the saddess lines of the play is “…back when we was young enough to dream.” In that moment, their future is set. They may dream and frantically plan, but systemic racism and Leroy’s final mistake will be the death knell.
Gabriel D. Lawrence also gives Leroy plenty of nuance. He’s a complicated man, and a man who loves Berta more than life. He’s a grown man who aches for the burdens put on Black women and repents the ones he put on her when they were younger. The two actors have such a chemistry that even through the quarreling you just see that deep bond stretching between them.
Angelica Chéri is the playwright, and she has written some lyrical scenes. The dialogue in the love scenes is playful and sacred. The emotions stirred by this night are difficult but have to be expressed.
As the director, Reginald L. Douglas, sets a fiery pace in the first scene. Given the speed of the cross-talk, the actors need stamina to keep up. Through a controlled yet constant movement, his actors seem to gain strength and speed to keep flinging those questions and demanding answers, even while drawing closer. It’s subtle and sets the scene.
Scenic designer Lawrence E. Moten, III has captured the feel of a small farmhouse without electricity, where every piece of carpet or furniture is hard-earned. The evocative lighting design by Sarah Tundermann — particularly when the cicadas are giving off a warning — adds to the sense of time passing quickly.
This is a wrenching story brought to life through impeccable acting and a script that demands your full attention. It is filmed on the stage and available 24/7 streaming. Add this to your watch list. You won’t regret it.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes without intermission.
Show Advisory: Best enjoyed by patrons 14+.
“Berta, Berta” runs through June 13, 2021. This production is being pre-recorded and presented virtually through on-demand streaming by Everyman Theatre, Baltimore, MD. For more information, please click here.