“The Old Settler” Weaves Together Sisterhood, Love and Race in One Magnificent Play

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In 1944, one year after the infamous Harlem Riots of 1943, Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes wrote: “Naturally, if you live on nice, tree-lined, quiet Convent Avenue, even though you are colored, it would never occur to you to riot and break windows…But under the hill on Eighth Avenue, on Lenox, and on Fifth there are places like this—dark, unpleasant houses with steep stairs and narrow halls where the rooms are too small, the ceilings too low and the rents too high. There are apartments with a dozen names over each bell. The house is full of roomers.”  Hughes’ quote illuminates the dramatic theme that underscores the narrative of Brooklyn’s own John Henry Redwood’s “The Old Settler”, set in 1943 Harlem. “The Old Settler” focuses on two sisters’ struggle to afford their rising rent. Faced with a choice between giving up their apartment and renting out their extra room to a stranger, they decide to take a chance on a roomer, newly arrived from the South. “The Old Settler” is a glimpse into the heart of an American city.  

Review

John Henry Redwood’s “The Old Settler” is currently performing to SRO audiences at The Billie Holiday Theatre at Restoration Plaza, thanks to director Michelle Shay’s clever mounting and the play’s star performances.

Without giving too much of the plot away, playgoers are leaving the theatre with a greater appreciation for the value of love and the power of sisterhood. Audience members quickly realize that they are being teleported to another era of the 1940s. Against the headlines of riots in Detroit and a second World War in progress, the play references many controversial issues facing Black people of those times, including racial segregation.

And the powerful performances of the star cast delivers Redwood’s intentions powerfully.

Denise Burse is the eccentric Quilly, sister to Elizabeth, portrayed by Pauletta Pearson Washington; Warner Miller is Husband, and gifted newcomer Maechi Aharanwa is Lou Bessie.

All things considered, “The Old Settler” is a must-see. Just one spoiler alert: It is more than a love story, more than a race story, more than a sisterhood story. It is these and more.

Through the genius of Shay’s messaging, Redwood’s script comes alive as a timeless lesson, as relevant today as it was in the period in which it was set, some 75 years ago.

Restoration Art is to be applauded for selecting this piece – with this cast — as its premiere opening production. Brava and Encore!