This weekend Mad River Theater Works of Ohio comes to the Roxbury Center for the Arts at Hibernian Hall with a pair of one-afternoon-only shows about African-American cultural heritage. The troupe performs “John Henry” on Saturday, 2/19 at 2:00 p.m. and “Wings of Courage” on Sunday 2/20 also at 2:00 p.m.
Mad River Theater Works is a professional touring ensemble with roots deep in the flat farm country of the Midwest. The ensemble sees itself as creating “plays that combine music and drama to tell stories about people from the back roads and small towns of America. They often reach back into history to cast a new light on the personalities and events that have shaped our nation.”
“John Henry” uses storytelling, drama and music to bring the saga of an American folk hero to life. John Henry’s incredible size and strength became legendary as he worked laying railroad track in the late 19th century. John won his famous contest with the newfangled steam-powered driver, but died soon afterwards of a broken heart. The show draws strong contemporary parallels about the importance of our humanity in the face of changing technology.
“Wings of Courage” is an original musical based on the true life story of Eugene Bullard, an African-American combat pilot, spy, musician and adventurer. Born in Columbus, Georgia, Bullard traveled the world. He joined the French Foreign Legion after being denied a meaningful place in the United States Army. He rose through the ranks and flew against the famous “Red Baron” as a part of the Lafayette Escadrille.
But when the Escadrille was incorporated into the new U.S. Army Air Corps in 1917, the color of Bullard’s skin prevented him from taking his place alongside the other American heroes of his day. But that didn’t stop him. He went on to fame as a bandleader in Paris during the 1920’s and was a spy against the Nazis.
Those interested in previewing these productions can listen to songs and view video clips from these shows at madrivertheater.org.
Both stories are recommended for those in 3rd grade and up. Tickets $10 to $20. Performances are at the Roxbury Center for the Arts at Hibernian Hall, 184 Dudley Street, 3rd floor. Info at madison-park.org.