Regine Danae as Bulrusher in the Sonoma State University production of “Bulrusher.” (facebook.com/SSUtheatre)

By Robert Digitale

A baby is found floating in a basket in a river among the bulrushes. The tale has a familiar ring to it, except the river isn’t the Nile but the Navarro, a coastal stream among Mendocino redwoods. And the child isn’t Moses, who will lead his people out of captivity, but a girl who will grow to talk to the river and tell people’s fortunes from their bath water.

“Bulrusher,” the latest production from Sonoma State University Theatre Arts, focuses on a multiracial girl and her discoveries big and small – about race in 1950s America, as well as about friendship, love and family. The story grabs hearts, and the production’s small cast combines for a strong performance.

Sonoma State University production of “Bulrusher.” (facebook.com/SSUtheatre)

The play, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama by Eisa Davis, is set in 1955 in Boonvile. The hamlet in Mendocino County once was known mainly for an esoteric speech called Boontling. The play’s characters often sprinkle in its unique jargon, and those of us who don’t “harp the ling,” or speak Boontling, just follow along as best we can.

The production is anchored by Régine Danaé as Bulrusher, a self-described motherless daughter who has “got the river” and thinks she doesn’t need a human friend. Bulrusher, a girl who never had a mirror, is a mix of wide-eyed wonder, occasionally violent anger and tender vulnerability. Danaé embodies her beautifully.

Alongside Bulrusher spring forth characters as idiosyncratic as the hometown lingo. They include the boy who goes sweet on her (Quintin Curtice), the logger (Joseph Grant), the female brothel owner (Jasmin Lewis) and the male school teacher who raised Bulrusher (Pierce Woodward). Into their lives comes Vera (Rolanda D. Bell), a young black woman from Alabama who opens Bulrusher’s eyes to a bigger world.

The stage in the Evert B. Person Theatre includes two sets of bleachers for audience members, and the university’s online ticket site suggest those seats all are taken for the remaining performances. But Director Harry Waters Jr. told me Thursday night that there also will be seating in the theatre’s regular audience section, with tickets available at the box office. Regular admission is $17, or $10 for seniors 55 and above.

The region’s wildfires forced changes in the performance dates for this production and a following one. “Bulrusher” concludes with 7:30 p.m. performances Friday (tonight) and Saturday. Next up will be “Man Equals Man,” which runs from Nov. 8-12 in Ives Hall.

In 2018 the university will produce “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” from Jan. 31 to Feb. 11, and William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” from March 14-31.

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