by Liam Donovan
Three Ordinary Men knows what it wants to do: tell the true story of one day in 1964. And it does so with surgical precision.
That day? Freedom Summer. June 21. Three civil rights workers — Michael Schwerner (Tristan Claxton), James Chaney (Jamar Adams-Thompson), and Andrew Goodman (the Ray Liotta-like Jack Copland) — drive from Meridian to Longdale to help with the rebuilding of a burned-down Black church.
Most of us know how this story ends, so playwright Steven Elliott Jackson doesn’t overdramatize the broad narrative beats. Instead, Three Ordinary Men fills in the blanks of the story, and introduces us to these men as people. It offers the laughs, the awkward silences, and the vulnerable glances that the history books can’t.
This is a dramaturgy of confidence. Bracingly economical and unfalteringly clear, this production of Three Ordinary Men does exactly what it needs to do. When the characters are in a car, they sit on blocks and look out at the audience. That’s all that’s needed. If a character needs to communicate something to the audience, they just monologue. There’s no shyness about it: this is theatre, the audience is here. Why shouldn’t they talk to us?
The whole thing has a beautiful stillness, but it only works because each actor has carved out such a specific body language. As Schwerner, Claxton is tense. His shoulders raise to his ears. He’s always on edge. Adams-Thompson’s Chaney is his foil, perfectly calm and grounded at all times — so brave that we know he is terrified. Copland’s bouncy Goodman sits in the middle — he’s nervous, sure, but he also has the unearned confidence of youth.
There’s a safety to this theatrical formalism, to be sure, but there’s also a beauty to it. Like the American Dream itself, everything is right there on the surface, but somehow unreachable. And the still bravery with which these men stare down the gravel road is heartbreaking. Congratulations to director Tanisha Taitt and the rest of the Cahoots team — Three Ordinary Men is a beautiful return.
Read the full review: https://www.lightsuptoronto.com/reflections/three-ordinary-men