From May ’09 Spotlight: Drury Lane Oakbrook is billing Ragtime as “the most lavish production” ever to appear on their stage.
Based on E. L. Doctorow’s prize-winning 1974 novel, the original Broadway production of Ragtime won four Tony awards in 1998 (including Best Original Score). The plot is a masterly melding of the intimate and the epic. While historical figures like Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, and Harry Houdini parade across the stage, the focus is always on the lives of the three iconic American families: the Protestants in suburban New Rochelle, the African Americans in Harlem, and the Jews arriving from Eastern Europe.
Even though the action takes place at the turn of the 20th Century, each character makes choices that any one of us could face tomorrow, and every plot point resonates with the nightly news. In an age of celebrity worship, immigration reform, and terror alerts, as Tea Party members face off against America’s first Black president, “it’s almost embarrassing how pertinent these issues are,” Rachel Rockwell told me in our follow-up phone call.
Rockwell uses extremely simple sets in the center of the stage, but she provides context by projecting historical images onto a back screen. This elegant technical solution gives every scene microcosm/macrocosm dimensions. “If our production gives the illusion of being grand, then that’s great and mission accomplished. But if audience members don’t take away the immediacy and the stakes of the story, then they’ve missed the entire point of this play,” Rockwell explained. “What changes isn’t the historical stuff, it’s the human angle: what makes a family; how do women function in a society; what does it mean to be a father and a man?”
Ragtime runs through May 23. For tickets, phone (630) 530-0111 or visit www.DruryLaneOakbrook.com.
Click HERE to read my full interview
with Ragtime’s director Rachel Rockwell.