Midway through Erik Ehn’s latest experimental drama Clover, the character of Mamie (played by Laura E. Johnston) reminds the audience that Emmett Till’s murderers sold the story of their hate crime to a publication for four thousand dollars. “This play is four thousand words to buy it back,” she decrees. Planet Connections’ production of Clover at La MaMa is a dizzying tale of violence and the futility of repentance.
The play opens on Joe Cronin (played by James B. Kennedy), in a hospital ward, where he is nearing death. What follows is a kind of fever dream as Cronin confronts his cruel past in a series of story cycles. More psalm than narrative, the ensemble swirls through the space with a luminescence appropriate to the language of the play. Ehn’s signature style of poetic theater is by turns poignant and vexing. Glory Kadigan’s direction graces the play with dynamic storytelling. The crux of the story is the murder of Emmett Till in 1955. Due, perhaps, to our familiarity with this tragedy, Till’s story cycle was most harrowing. Emmett Till (played by Trevor LatezHayes), alongside his parents, Moses and Mamie (Harold Surratt and Laura E. Johnston) give piercing performances.
Clover is not a play for the story-driven spectator. The world of the play requires a noncommittal attitude from its visitors. While said world contains many beautiful ideas, the discordant execution of these moments leaves the audience feeling a bit lost. Nevertheless, Clover is a pretty picture of ugly and violent times.
Performances continue through December 16 at La MaMa.