An appreciation: I Saw A Crimson Wave

by Lynn on August 3, 2020

in The Passionate Playgoer

What: I See the Crimson Wave

Where: The back lawn of The Bruce Hotel, Stratford, Ont.

Why: To tell the story of Nat Love, an African-American former slave who was a cowboy at the turn of the last century, who loved words and had vivid adventures.

Who: Roy Lewis wrote and performs the piece.

When: Once a week until August 22, 2020.

I saw the very first performance of I See the Crimson Wave on Saturday, Aug. 1. It’s part of the wonderful Here for Now Open-Air Theatre Festival playing on the back lawn of the Bruce Hotel, Stratford, Ont.

The play was written and performed by Roy Lewis. It’s billed as a workshop production because it’s so new. Reviewing it would be totally irresponsible. So I’m not reviewing it. What I’m doing is writing an appreciation of the work, the writing, the imagination in the story-telling, the gift of language, the poetry and the joy in the telling of Roy Lewis.

Roy Lewis writes about Nat Love who was an African-American ex-slave who was taught to read and write by his father. At the get-go Lewis hits us with a piece of information that is stunning–that teaching a Black person to read and write at that time was a crime.

Nat Love became a cowboy moving west. He even wrote his autobiography detailing his exploits: Life and Adventures of Nat Love, Better Known in the Cattle Country as ‘Deadwood Dick,’ by Himself. Roy Lewis recounts how Nat Love wrote about the rules and regulations governing a cowboy’s life. He wrote about adventures taking a huge herd of cattle to market; dealing with rustlers; meeting notable cowboys of the day; meeting Lily Langtry who was on tour across America; he wrote about being a porter on a train and discovering the beauty of poetry, specifically haiku. (From trusty Google: “A traditional Japanese haiku is a three-line poem with seventeen syllables, written in a 5/7/5 syllable count. Often focusing on images from nature, haiku emphasizes simplicity, intensity, and directness of expression.”)

I knew that Roy Lewis loved poetry, particularly the challenging haiku form. How fortuitous that Roy Lewis connected with Nat Love who lived more than 100 years ago; is little known today but was a notable hero as a Black man and a cowboy and wrote in haiku.

One of the many beauties of transporting theatre is that it makes you suspend your disbelief to engage in a story and trust a character to tell it. Years ago, a director asked an actress to play Cleopatra. The actress was incredulous at the request and said to the director, “You want a menopausal dwarf to play Cleopatra?” And Peter Hall said to Judi Dench, “Yes, I want you to play Cleopatra.” So Judi Dench, at 54 years-old, played Cleopatra at the National Theatre in London. She was the best Cleopatra I have ever seen. Ever.

Roy Lewis is an engaging actor, charming us with his bass-baritone voice, commanding, full of nuance, subtlety and depth, then catching us up short when he sings in the most delicate of soprano/tenor voices as Lily Langtry or as another character who sings a lilting lullaby. When he says that Nat Love wrote everything he is going to read to us, including all the poetry and haiku, all the dazzling descriptions and hilarious encounters, we believe him. Lewis punctuates everything with a smile and perhaps a wink. And if we might knit our eyebrows just for a second wondering if what he’s saying is true, we brush it away.  Roy Lewis instills so much joy in the telling, makes the words sound delicious and makes us fall in love with the beguiling Nat Love, of course it all must be true!

Don’t miss this.

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