By: Paulanne Simmons
Based on the writings, photographs and original recordings of Alan Govenar, Texas In Paris is making its premiere at the
York Theatre Company under Akin Babatundé’s direction and Amy Jones’s musical supervision. The play follows singers Osceola Mays (Lillias White) and John Burrus (Scott Wakefield) as they travel from Texas to Paris, where they perform at the Maison des Cultures du Monde.
Not only have Mays and Burrus never met before they begin their trip; this white man and black woman are Texans and the products of the Jim Crow south. While Mays plods cheerfully along, trying to find common ground, Burrus seems intent on supporting the barriers that have traditionally kept them in separate worlds. Mays shares her life. Burrus crosses his arms, shakes his head and waits for the trip to end.
The audience waits for something to happen.
If one could write a play about people getting to know each other and eventually letting their guard down, Texas in Paris would work beautifully. But the obvious lack of drama inherent in such a concept is a problem, even when the two people happen to be in Paris and behind them are beautiful images of Parisian parks and Parisian boulevards.
Fortunately, although much of the play is devoted to Mays and Burrus’s conversations, the heart of the show is the cowboy songs and country hymns sung by Wakefield, and the a cappella spirituals sung by White. Whenever we’ve had just about enough of Mays’ patter and Burrus’s bad manners, one of them bursts into glorious song.
Our inner cowboy (or girl) happily warms to Wakefield singing "Trail to Mexico," "Cowpuncher Riding the Range" and "Git Along Little Dogies" as he plucks his guitar. While our spirits soar with White’s renditions of "Nobody Knows the Trouble I See," "Oh, Freedom" and "When the Saints Go Marchin’ In." And certainly when Wakefield sings "Power in the Blood" or "Rounded Up in Glory," we realize (even if he doesn’t) that black and white, we are all God’s children.
The final song, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," which Wakefield and White perform together, says it all: we’re all in this together.
Texas in Paris runs through March 1 at St. Peter’s (Citicorp Building, entrance on East 54th Street just east of Lexington Avenue).
Photography: Carol Rosegg