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Ragtime: A New Century Changes Everything

Kirsten Obadal
By Kirsten Obadal
Posted on Feb 14,2014
Filed Under Entertainment , Local Style,

Photo by Keith Waters for Kx Photography
Jennifer Lyons Pagnard (Mother) and Shaun Moe (Father)

By Erin P. Doherty

ALEXANDRIA, VA. - Half a century after the March on Washington and the Birmingham bombings, LTA's production of “Ragtime” might bring to mind the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. However, this play, which is based on E. L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel, depicts some of its catalysts after the turn of the century. Gears on the stage wall might represent wheels in motion for major trends, such as Ford’s assembly line workers as the figurative cogs of industrialization.
African Americans are represented by Coalhouse Walker, Jr. (Malcolm Lee), a Harlem musician and his girlfriend and child’s mother, Sarah (Aerika Saxe); upper-class, sheltered Caucasians by Mother (Jennifer Lyons Pagnard) in New Rochelle, NY; and Eastern European immigrants by Tateh (Michael Gale), a nomadic Latvian Jewish immigrant. His voice is particularly sweet when he sings (Gliding) to reassure his nameless daughter (Lindsey Gattuso) that their life is about to improve after he sells his first moving pictures book to a train conductor (Derek Marsh).

Set designer J. Andrew Simmons employs a simple set, which accentuates the character’s raw feelings and experiences by using three discrete, circular “floats.” The first depicts Mother saying goodbye to Father (Shaun Moe), who is leaving on the second float, representing a boat carrying explorers to the North Pole. He reassures her that nothing will change, while she hopes otherwise. The third float represents a boat carrying Tateh and his daughter to America. As the story progresses, the three populations are forced to either collide or collaborate without that separation. Everyone visits Atlantic City, where Nesbit and Houdini’s shows provide diversion.
A few such lighthearted segments punctuate the otherwise intense story line. Another shows Father avoiding Mother’s pleas to explain the tumultuous times to his son (Grant Hamilton/Brian McNamara). Instead, they attend a baseball game. He discovers that even that is no longer a respite from violence and societal changes (What a Game and Fire in the City).

The African American and Eastern European communities’ respective dancing and singing are high energy and on point throughout. Kit Sibley’s and Jean Schlichtling’s costuming choices show white people dressed all in white, who are gradually surrounded by dancing  immigrants wearing multicolored clothes. Here, their pure white world as they knew it is obscured by people and clothing of many colors. Music director Francine Krasowska’s orchestration effectively captures Ragtime’s call-and-response nature.  Further, the 12-piece orchestra’s volume is balanced and expressive.

Historical figures—including Harry Houdini (Jonathan Cagle-Mulberg), Evelyn Nesbit (Claire O’Brien), Booker T.  Washington (Rodney Jackson), J.P. Morgan (Larry Grey), Henry Ford and Admiral Peary (Buzz Schmidt), and Emma Goldman(Janette Moman)—are so vividly portrayed that one might be inspired to learn more about, or at least review, their history.

Don’t miss “Ragtime,” which runs from January 25 through February 15, 2015. For tickets, either call The Little Theatre of Alexandria at 703.683.0496 or visit

Photo by Keith Waters for Kx Photography
"Gettin’ Ready Rag" featuring Ricardo Coleman, Roger Yawson, Tiara Hairston, Aerika Saxe, Jonathan Fair, and Jessica Pryde
Photo by Keith Waters for Kx Photography
Claire O’Brien (Evelyn)
Photo by Keith Waters for Kx Photography
Lindsey Gattuso (Little Girl) and Michael Gale (Tateh)
Photo by Keith Waters for Kx Photography
Cast of Ragtime

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