The race card


Jump Jim Crow


Written by Henry Meyerson (

Directed by Tom Thornton

Midtown International Theatre Festival (

Where Eagles Dare Theatre, 347 W. 36th Street, 1st floor

Equity showcase (through August 2, 2008)

Review by Deborah S. Greenhut


Admit it or no, we all carry a race card. Jump Jim Crow examines the history of how two actors played their own hands in mid-nineteenth century America. They were mightily  outplayed by writer Henry Meyerson’s fantasy Strom Thurmond (Tom Thornton), as a visitor from the twentieth. The play stacked the deck so that we might look at ourselves and see what we’ve become through the experiences of Thomas Rice (Michael Gnat), a naive white opportunist performer, who profited from racist material that was developed by his black collaborator, the writer Jack Washington (Larry Floyd). This much of the deal with the devil actually happened. Washington recoils from his part in the drama and abandons Rice, but Rice continues to sell out for the money. With Washington’s departure, the play focuses on the predictably Faustian bargain though the agent of destruction is rooted in the play’s present, rather than its visitor from the future. If Meyerson points a finger of blame, it is clear that he excuses no one. Ignorance is not bliss.


Under Thornton’s direction, Gnat delivered a giddy Thomas Rice, handling the naïf effectively. Floyd’s portrayal of Jack Washington provided a dramatic final few moments to bring home the chilling title refrain of the song that prefaced the Jim Crow laws. As the malevolent manipulator Strom Thurmond, Thornton might have done well to seem a little less clued in to the action of the play.


The black box theater necessitated a simple production, but the central focusing image, a hanging rack, made its point in the darkness in a number of ways as both a metaphor and theater prop. Kudos belong to designer Theresa Violet for effective red, white, and blue lighting and also sound/costume design. Movement choreography by Justin Boccitto was especially artful in the final scene, which expressed the multiple ironies of the history contrasted with the art of Jim Crow.


Edited for the time slot, some of the nuances of the struggle for Rice’s mind and soul may have been downplayed, but Meyerson is to be commended for insisting that the audience face the music and the past. The N-word is the least of America’s problem with race.


Box Score:


Writing: 2

Directing: 2

Acting: 2

Sets: 2

Costumes: 2

Lighting/Sound: 2


Copyright 2008 by Deborah S. Greenhut


Return to Volume Fourteen, Number Five Index


Return to Volume Fourteen Index


Return to Home Page