Review: "The Transfiguration of Benjamin Banneker" Is Out of This World
The Transfiguration of Benjamin Banneker
Conceived, designed, and directed by Theodora Skipitares
Presented by La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in association with Skysaver Productions at the Ellen Stewart Theatre
66 E 4th St., Manhattan, NYC
January 23-February 2, 2020
|Giant Banneker head by Theodora Skipitares. Photo by Theo Cote.|
After an opening that touches on the infinitude of the universe, the play narrows things down a bit to focus on Banneker's life, beginning with his ancestry: a white English grandmother who is sentenced to transportation to the colonies and indentured servitude and a grandfather who hails from Mali and was initially owned by his grandmother; followed by a mother who marries another formerly enslaved man, this one from Guinea. As the production circulates among episodes from Banneker's life—his self-taught construction of a clock, his accuracy in eclipse prediction, his correspondence with Thomas Jefferson (voiced by Tom Walker), and more—Banneker, given voice by a fantastic Reginald L. Barnes, is sometimes a more traditional puppet and sometimes a giant floating head trailing lighted strands that might simultaneously represent his thoughts, the cosmos, and his connections to others, then and now. Candles that appear in the silhouette cutouts that present his family tree hold a similarly multivalent symbolic power, calling to mind spirits, sparks of passion or intellect, and also stars—all meanings that remain in play in the positioning of one at the heart of the Banneker-as-puppet.
|Chris Ignacio and Banneker puppet. Photo by Theo Cote.|
|Giant heads by Theodora Skipitares. Banneker chorus. Photo by Theo Cote.|
|Banneker head with Soul Tigers in finale. Photo by Theo Cote.|
You can support The Transfiguration of Benjamin Banneker at the play's Indiegogo page.
-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards