‘Wine In The Wilderness’ Showcases Professional Theater In Red Bank


Gwyneth Finn, Staff Writer

It is no surprise when sitting in the audience at Alice Childress’ “Wine in the Wilderness” that this play is filled with racial commentary. Set in 1964’s New York City amidst a time of racial unrest, this production tackles harsh ideas such as how African-Americans view themselves, their history and the world around them.

Brandon J. Dirden directed the production, which closed Sunday, Nov. 6, at the Two River Theater in Red Bank.

The play is 90 minutes in length and performed without an intermission. The story follows five African-American characters in a New York City apartment during the night of a riot. The audience is first introduced to Bill, a young man who has devoted his life to depicting the beauty of Black people through painting.

Designed by Richard H. Morris Jr., the set is Bill’s apartment, which is furnished with many finished paintings showing Black women and famous Black historical figures. This gives the audience a sense of Bill’s personality and what he wants people to get from his art. The props are colorful and artistic to highlight what a poor artist’s living space would look like at the time.

The audience is then introduced to “Old Timer,”  an older African-American man who believes that his life is nothing special and reverts to gathering the spoils of looting to make ends meet. It is clear from his introduction that this character has a lot of insight to give the younger characters as he has been through the mill and faced many hardships.

Bill tells Old Timer about his important piece he is working on called a triptych, which is three paintings that tell a story together. He has completed the first two paintings, but lacks the right muse to model for his third painting. He is then informed by his friends Cyntha and Sonny-Man via telephone that they have found him a muse and they are on their way over with her.

Lies, true intentions, intense emotions, and gender normalities begin to unravel as the five characters spend time together in Bill’s craftily decorated apartment on that fateful night.

Alice Childress’ work was able to captivate a student matinee audience on Nov. 3. At times, the theater erupted in uproarious laughter and, at others, expressed some shock at the use of intense language. This production was an intense racial commentary, which left audience members with a feeling of enlightenment and insight into the life of 1964 Harlem during the riots of racial injustice.

Next up at the theater is Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” from Dec. 2 to Dec. 11. and “Living & Breathing,” a world premiere, running from Jan. 28 to Feb. 26. The Two River Theater is located in downtown Red Bank, near the train station, and can be visited at  https://tworivertheater.org