Pure Life Theatre’s production of Peter Manos’ play Loving seamlessly blends an important history lesson with an intimate love story.
In 1958, Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving, an interracial couple, were prohibited from living together as man and wife in their home state of Virginia after they were married in the District of Columbia. They had to fight for that right all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
Deb Royals Mizerk’s intuitive direction focuses on the relationship between Mildred and Richard, allowing their deep love for one another to drive the story forward. The beautifully designed set of a rural front porch also maintains that emphasis.
Aya Wallace (Mildred) and Sean A. Brosnahan (Richard) are beautifully matched here. Both convincingly convey the depth of feeling this couple has for each other with few words and subtle gestures. Where Brosnahan’s Richard wrestles with expressing himself, Wallace’s Mildred offers the soothing warmth that keeps them wrapped together. Their intimate moments linger even when they are not on stage.
JaJuan Cofield as Mildred’s Brother joins the narrators, Chanda Branch and Rodney Martin, to add narration, sometimes humorous commentary, and off-handed remarks. They also provide the vocals for numerous folk ballads (with wonderful musical direction from Ronzel Bell) that punctuate the performance, pulling the audience in with some familiar melodies and prompting us to bear witness to these proceedings.
Tracy Davis appears in the latter part of the story as Cohen, the ACLU lawyer who represents the Lovings in their case before the Supreme Court. While many of the arguments presented further expose the underlying systemic racism of the very laws that were being challenged, the intensity of the piece sinks in during these final courtroom exchanges.
At its heart, this play reminds us that love is a choice, and that Mildred and Richard wanted the freedom to choose who to love. It seems hard to believe that it wasn’t until June 12, 1967 that the Supreme Court effectively legalized interracial marriage throughout the nation. Moreover, there are those who must still fight for the right to choose who they love some 50 years later.