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Review: In ‘Cadillac Crew,’ a Road Trip Through Racism and Erasure


Review: In ‘Cadillac Crew,’ a Road Trip Through Racism and Erasure

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That includes Abby (Dria Brown), who went to college with two of the murdered women, and Dee (Ashley Bryant), whose daughter is among the first to integrate a local school. Rachel and Sarah likewise have family secrets lined up on the runway for revelation.

But the revelations, and the positions that emerge from them, are often abstract. “I need to believe that I’m possible,” Abby says.

And as the play’s style becomes more episodic and telegraphic once the women hit the road, the thread of character reality sometimes gets dropped. By the time we leap 52 years to a wild coda involving a podcast called “Uncovering American Herstory,” we’ve lost the Richmond foursome altogether.

That’s part of Ms. Sampson’s point. The names and specific traits of the women shunted to the backbench of the movement, even though they were often on the front lines of violence, are mostly lost to us. And that loss keeps happening today.

So it’s significant that in the podcast scene, when Ms. Bryant, Ms. La Tour and Ms. Brown play Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, the founders of Black Lives Matter, they are able to own their agenda openly as black women, two of them further identifying as queer.

If their jargony speechifying didn’t work for me, the powerful contrast with 1963 did. That’s one of Ms. Sampson’s gifts: She is uncowed by supposed rules of construction, unafraid of genre-switching to make a point. In her professional playwriting debut, a delightful work whose title I’ll abbreviate as “If Pretty Hurts,” she made a hairpin turn near the end that deepened everything that came before it.

“Cadillac Crew,” a more ambitious play, is not yet hitting all its marks. Directed by Jesse Rasmussen and Ms. Sampson herself, both recent graduates of the Yale School of Drama, it often seems too eager to escape the gravity of drama, heading toward oratory or agitprop. A stronger production might indulge such moments less — not because what they say is politically outré or objectionable, but because it is not. Even a fine cast like this one has trouble thrilling us with what we already know.

That’s why “Cadillac Crew” is at its best when thrilling us with what we don’t. It names names we need to hear, even if most of them are, of necessity, invented.

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