Theatre Department’s newest production examines immigration
The Theatre Department isn’t slowing down this month. With “1984” closing last Sunday, “Ragtime” is ready to take on the Ted Paul Stage.
At the turn of the twentieth century, “Ragtime” follows the lives of three different families living in New York City.
We first meet Mother, Father, Mother’s Younger Brother, the Little Boy and Edgar, who live in New Rochelle, an area dominated by white people from the upper class.
Secondly, we meet Tateh, a Jewish immigrant arriving in America with his daughter, excited to start a new life with freedom.
Lastly, we travel to Harlem. This is where we meet ragtime pianist, Coalhouse Walker Jr. and Sarah, a new-mother.
Each of these families are faced with different struggles, some being life-changing and some being life-ending.
Directed by Dr. Paul Hustoles, he had a few comments to add about “Ragtime”.
“This show is filled with historical characters,” he said. “So, the leading characters are fictional but then you have real characters like J.P Morgan, Henry Ford, Booker T. Washington and Emma Goldman, who is such a fascinating character. We follow this fictional family along with this real-life history and I’m hoping it’s going to be one of those shows, where people will get out, in a good way, and start Googling things. I want people to think, ‘Hmm, did Emma Goldman really do that?’”
The story flips between following Coalhouse and Sarah, Mother’s family and Tateh.
After Father departs for his work trip, Mother and the Little Boy find an African-American child that was buried alive in their garden. Calling the police, they arrive with Sarah, the child’s mother; instead of being hauled off to a jail cell, Mother takes in Sarah and the child.
Venturing to the Lower East Side, we meet Tateh again. Still in awe of his newfound freedom, he begins selling paper silhouettes of famous celebrities for a nickel each. Eventually, business goes downhill and his daughter becomes ill. Sitting at rock bottom, Tateh promises to make life better for him and his daughter.
In Harlem, Coalhouse tells his friends about Sarah, a girl he loved and eventually lost. Determined to win her back, Coalhouse drives to New Rochelle in his brand-new, Ford Model T where he is harassed by a group of firemen. When Sarah refuses to see him, he returns to New Rochelle every Sunday in an attempt to win her back over by playing his music.
According to Hustoles, “We will have an actual Model T in the show.”
Now living in Massachusetts, Tateh works over sixty hours a week at a dinjy mill; his sight of the American Dream has been lost.
When a work strike spins out of control, Tateh and his daughter flee. Trying to soothe his child’s terror, he shows her his flip book of silhouettes that is later bought by their train conductor. This triggers a new business idea for Tateh which allows him to have hope again.
During a speech by Brooker T. Washington, Coalhouse’s Model T is trashed by the same group of firemen as before. He seeks justice for this destruction, even postponing his and Sarah’s marriage. To help her fiance, Sarah seeks the help of the vice presidential candidate and is beaten to death by the police.
Mourning the love of his life’s death, Coalhouse lashes out, demanding that the firemen and their chief be held accountable for their actions.
Attempting to make a difference, Coalhouse leads a following of people who want equal rights established – people who want to make their lifetime and their descendants’ lives better.
When questioned about why he chose to direct this show, Hustoles did not waste any time putting in his two cents.
“The major topic is the relationship between the African-Americans, Caucasians and the immigrant population,” he said. “And so I thought politically, it would be an interesting time to explore this because that was a time where they weren’t talking about building walls – they were talking about letting immigrants come in but they still didn’t treat the immigrants like equal citizens and that’s discussed in the play. I thought, that convergence of those three planets aligned and I thought this is the time to do the show and because I love this show.”
“Ragtime” opens this upcoming weekend, running Thursday, Feb. 15 through Feb. 17. The show will re-open the following weekend on Feb. 22 and will close on Feb. 25. Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 15, 16, 17, 22, 23 and 24 as well as two matinee performances on Feb. 24 and 25.
Tickets are available to purchase online at http://www.mnsu.edu/theatre/ , by phone at 507-389-6661 or in-person at the box office Monday-Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. Regular tickets for “Ragtime” sell for $22, discounted for seniors at $19 and are $17 for Minnesota State University, Mankato students.