Theatre

Tyrone Davis
Simon Cato (Tyrone Davis) strikes a confident pose to open the current production at the Vineyard Playhouse. Photos by Ralph Stewart

Win by a length

By Anna Marie D'Addarie - August 30, 2007

The new play at the Vineyard Playhouse, "Pure Confidence" is just that. As exciting as a photo finish, the play grabs as if you were holding the winning ticket at 100 to 1.

The play was written by Carlyle Brown and directed by MJ Bruder Munafo. The script may not be as strong as that of "Copenhagen," the recent spellbinder at the Playhouse, but the cast takes over this show and turns in strong performances across the board. The tight production eased the minor script flaws making for a very enjoyable night at the theatre.

Victor Talmadge and Tyrone Davis
Col. Wiley Johnson (Victor Talmadge) and Simon Cato (Tyrone Davis).

The time is 1860 and the play opens with a bang: a brash Negro jockey teasing a white Southern gentleman. Impossible? Not if the jockey is the great Simon Cato and he knows he can ride just about any horse to victory. His horse of late is Pure Confidence, a filly from Colonel Wiley Johnson's stable. Horse and jockey are a winning combination.

The story centers on Mr. Cato and sheds some light on the great Negro jockeys of this era. Like the forgotten athletes of the Negro league in baseball, horseracing has many great jockeys whose stories remain untold.

However, this is not a history play. The theme of freedom is universal and certainly speaks to a modern audience. Some questions you may be asking yourself after seeing this show are: What does freedom cost? Who makes you free? What does real freedom feel like?

A'lisa D. Miles and Jill Macy
Caroline (A'lisa D. Miles) and Mattie Johnson (Jill Macy) share a touching moment in "Pure Confidence."

Riders up

Tyrone Davis plays Mr. Cato with an energy he doesn't try to contain. He gives his character a star quality that can't be diminished, no matter what his station or the times may dictate.

Col. Johnson is played by Victor Talmadge. As a Southern horseman, he loves to win, and with Mr. Cato in the saddle, that always happens. But it is his relationship with the Mr. Cato outside of the stable that really makes his character come to life. He never plays the Colonel as a caricature.

Jill Macy is the Colonel's wife, Mattie Johnson. Her character is written rather thin, relying on our pre-conceived notions of a Southern belle. But that wasn't good enough for Ms. Macy who filled out her character beautifully.

Barry Press played two roles, both very well. In Act I, Mr. Dewitt a horse owner and in Act II, a hotel clerk. It was a nice counterpoint that Mr. Dewitt went to extraordinary means to own Mr. Cato and in Act II the hotel clerk tries, often unsuccessfully, to control the once great jockey.

Barry Press
Actor Barry Press as the hotel clerk in Act II.

A'lisa D. Miles as Caroline turns in a fine performance. She moves from slave, to wife, to free woman with grace and strength. Her final scene with her former owner, Mrs. Johnson, is wonderful.

Danny Jensen plays two roles also. As the reporter in Act II his character is a bit pushy. Let's not forget that without these reporters, stories about jockeys such as Mr. Cato would never have been told. Mr. Jensen rounds out the cast nicely.

Run for the roses

The technical staff did a good job with this play. Set designer Lisa Pegnato gave the actors room to move and defined the space with moveable set pieces. All the attention to detail we have come to expect and appreciate in a Vineyard Playhouse production is here. The actors seem comfortable in their period costumes and the costumes didn't overwhelm.

Enjoy this play. The actors certainly do and the opening night audience cheered and refused to stop until the cast took a second curtain call. "Pure Confidence" is in the winner's circle.

"Pure Confidence" continues Tuesday through Saturday until Sept. 8. Ticket prices range $25 to $37.50. Curtain times vary. For more information, call 508-696-6300 or visit www.vineyardplayhouse.org.