There's a fascinating work on the boards at the Rep Studio for the next two weeks. "Safe House", by Keith Josef Adkins, takes place in pre-Civil War Kentucky. Adkins discovered that his mother's family were free people of color, to use the old legal term, in that area, and started from there.
The Pedigrews, two brothers and their aunt, live together. They make shoes for their living, the elder brother, Addison, seeking out customers and heading up the work. He's a proud man, proud of his work and driven to make life better. The other brother, Frank, is driven, too, but he's not sure what direction to aim. Their lives and that of Aunt Dorcas, are severely circumscribed, not just by the mores of the era but by restrictions placed on them by the sheriff after they were thought to have harbored a runaway slave. (Kentucky, like Missouri, was a state where slavery was legal but did not secede during the Civil War.)
It's a gifted group, inhabiting their roles rather than merely acting. Addison is Daniel Morgan Shelley, Frank is Will Cobbs and Dorcas played by Kelly Taffe. Around them are Clarissa, the love interest, Raina Houston, and an employee of the sheriff, Bracken. Bracken, Michael Sean McGuinness, is - sort of - a friend of the family, despite his whiteness, but there's an awful seesaw between his metaphorical fondness for Dorcas' rabbit stew and "I was only doing my job." McGuinness and Taffe in a scene late in the second act are breath-holding good.
Marvellously detailed costumes from Myrna Colley-Lee, a set that glows in the golden light of memory, by Peter and Margery Spack, and the work from composer and sound designer Scott O'Brien all contribute to the weight of this production. Melissa Maxwell's direction is spot on.
Of course the play is about race. But it's about a lot more - moral choices, ambition, love versus need. It doesn't run long, and this is a small house. Grab a ticket.
through Feb. 8
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis