Mary Ruth Baggot, Reginald L. Barnes, Gail Merzer Behrens, Chanel Carroll, Mark Ellmore, Gillian Glasco, Kevin Green, Jim Heaphy, Heather Massie, Jonathan Miles, Avery Pearson, Christopher G. Roberts, Robert Spence, David Wirth, Jerry Zellers
Christopher G. Roberts
Reflections of a Heart is a Serious play with capital “S.” It tells the story of Isaac Woodard, Jr., a well-decorated black WWII veteran, who returns to the post-war South to face the worst kind of discrimination. It is the true story of a hero beaten until he was physical ruined, permanently blinded and emotionally crippled.
In 1946, Issac Woodard, Jr. was a cause clbre, attracting attention from the fledgling NAACP (in the form of Thurogood Marshall), President Truman and a host of entertainers from Lena Horne to Orson Welles. It was one of the first civil rights cases, but it ended badly and has been forgotten by history. By 1951, Issac Woodard, Jr. was forgotten, a blind black man trying to make a living for his family by playing the guitar. In Reflections, he is rousted on trumped-up charges in New York. The play shifts between the 1951 interrogation and the terrible events of 1946, casting a light back on an event forgotten by most.
While Reflections of a Heart is an important piece of theater, it is not a terribly satisfying play. Quite possibly reflecting the truth but nonetheless providing a distraction, every white character in Reflections is evil, very evil, sadistically evil or, at best, incompetent. On the other side of the scale, every black character is deferential, kindly, or angelic and treated with contempt by white society. There is very little dramatic tension, just a slow expansion of pain and undeserved woe. The playwright, Christopher G. Roberts, attempts to mitigate this by the use of the ghost of one character. The ghost tries to guide the audience with a call to action, but it is only marginally successful in giving Reflections a hopeful message.
Reflections nevertheless features some beautiful acting, particularly by Chanel Carrol, who plays the Rosie, Woodard’s wife. She brings forth a three-dimensional character, alternately hopeful, wary, and despondent. She accomplishes this even though her character shows up rarely and out of the expected timeline sequence, but when Rosie arrives you believe are witnessing an understandable response.
Christopher G. Roberts wrote and directed this play. He also plays Isaac Woodard, Jr. and he does an excellent job of anchoring the play within his character. As Woodard, the anger, frustration and strength shine through the performance.
Avery Pearson as a shell-shocked mental patient brings a surprising warmth to the role of Erman. As an outsider who clearly doesnt understand why this is happening, he (along with Rosie) is one of the few characters the audience can relate to, but both show up too infrequently.
Assuming the 1951 story is true, Reflections of a Heart is so heartbreaking it is a little painful to watch. The audience follows the story of Isaac Woodard, Jr. through his hellish experience, but there is no other side, no hopeful redemption. By all means see Reflections of a Heart; there is a lot to be admired. Be forewarned, however; there are few traces of joy.