The Underground Railroad Game is a childhood memory revisited through the lens of race, sexual attraction, humor and taboos. Created, written and performed by two amazing talents, this show works beautifully to exam almost everything about race, love and sex, which we try to ignore.
Jennifer Kidwell and Scott Sheppard play two teachers, guiding their elementary school through an exercise about the Civil War. The audience is the class, but the audience participation is minimal. The two teachers describe the Underground Railroad Game, where the students are divided up into Union and Confederate Teams. The Union’s team’s goal is to transport slave dolls from one class’ “safehouse” to another, the Confederate’s team tries to catch them.
Right from the start of the play, the piece is a little disconcerting. To turn the Civil War into a hide and seek game with dolls standing in for slaves is uncomfortable. And the show dials up the discomfort level from there. Outside school, the teachers are attracted to each other and begin the tenuous process of dating between races. Their dating process reaches across pitfalls and mistakes with warmth and jokes – jokes that sometimes work and sometimes fall flat.
Underground Railroad Game then gives us snippets from the classroom, dates and the bedroom, mixed and folding in on one another. The two leads’ attraction and game playing takes them to deep emotional and sexual areas, often getting surprisingly out of control for each.
It took a while for the cynical part of me to warm to this show. It is a little too earnest in places and tries too hard to be edgy. But halfway through the fast paced show (90 minutes with no intermission) I was hooked. Ms. Kidwell and Mr. Sheppard are excellent in the roles, but even more than that, they are fearless. They walk right up to the edge of what people are comfortable with and then jump across, believing we have the guts to follow them.
The stagecraft is well done, with the Lighting Design by Oona Curley particularly effective. Director Taibi Magar keeps the play moving forward, but gives it plenty of room to breath and grow. By the end of the Underground Railroad Game, I wasn’t positive what I saw, but I knew I remember it for a long time.
Underground Railroad Game | Created: Jennifer Kidwell, Scott Sheppard, Lighting Rod Special | Director: Taibi Magar | Cast: Jennifer Kidwell, Scott Shepard