The Old Settler at International City Theatre

With nearly the poignancy of a Tennessee Williams drama, John Henry Redwood’s “The Old Settler”, now onstage at the International City Theatre in Long Beach touches on all the aspects of a good old-fashioned love story.

The play — based in part on Redwood’s family history — tells the story of two older sisters who share a walk-up in 1940s Harlem. They live as comfortably as any black woman could live in that era in that city. Social issues of the time are certainly addressed in the play, but at the heart of it, this is a love story.

But this is no syrupy confection of fairy tale romances and happy endings; Redwood’s well-balanced play juggles comedy and serious undertones of reality into a complete drama, providing a very satisfying evening at the theatre.

Elizabeth (Veralyn Jones) is an older woman who’s never been married. In Harlem patois, she’s an “old settler,” a woman who’s reached the age of 30 without getting married and without any romantic prospects for the future.

Her sister Quilly ((Karen Malina White) isn’t faring so well, either. Though she’s been married before, her husband has run off with another woman, leaving her alone. When Elizabeth takes in a boarder of similar circumstance – a young man from South Carolina – Quilly objects openly to the arrangement.

Called merely “Husband,” the young man (Ryan Vincent Anderson) seems naïve – a good old country boy in the big city in search of a girlfriend who ran off to New York for the seductions of bright lights and endless possibility. He’s in for a rude awakening when he finds that his girl, Lou Bessie (Tarina Pouncy) has changed her name and is running around with an unsavory Harlem crowd.

Though their relationship starts out platonically, Elizabeth and Husband seem perfect for each other, even given the wide gap in ages. The relationship blooms, testing the bond between the sisters, who share a past that drove them apart once before, eight years earlier.

Jones and White are pitch-perfect as sisters, enjoying a wide range of affection for one another on stage. Jones is more reserved but playful while White takes the witty lines and owns them as if they popped right out of her head on the spot. Though Jones and White enjoy comedic turns, the real comedy comes from Anderson and Pouncy, who play backwoods naiveté perfectly.

Thanks to Caryn Desai’s tight hold on the script, the characters move about freely and unrestrainedly. Although the play takes place in the gritty world of Harlem, the set by Kurt Boetcher (complete with laundry hanging across fire escapes) has a pristine quality that never really gives us a feeling of actually being there, but then again, Redwood’s bittersweet seeks only to evoke a bygone era that, in the abstract, makes us yearn for a simpler time.

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About Obed Medina
Obed received his BA in Creative Writing from the University of California at Riverside. He has freelanced and volunteered at various theatre companies in Los Angeles since 2002. He launched his own workshop theatre company in 2008 and has produced six original one-act plays and one Off-Broadway hit. Currently, he is living in Ashland, Oregon working on his writing and founder of Collaborative Theatre Project.

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