- First Stage Children’s Theater’s present production,
“To the Promised Land,” was written by a Milwaukee native.
The play tries to unite two teenagers, one black and one
Jewish, in their similar struggles to improve their lot in
Gillard Daly attempted to link two characters who lived 50
years apart in the same neighborhood to their common dream of
standing up for themselves and their oppressed people. Golda
Meir is the Jewish girl; Ruth,
the fictional young black. Meir’s family has emigrated from
Russia; Ruth’s from Alabama.
characters are inspired by others who have tried to change
themselves and their environments. Meir by her older sister
Sheyna, and Ruth by her dead brother Cliff, who was killed
during the racial turbulence in Milwaukee in 1969, and by Mr.
Baker, her teacher who takes a personal interest in her.
the themes inherent in the piece are laudatory, the script is
fragmented, and the two main characters, Goldie and Ruth, are
not developed enough to make us care about them. Actually, we
end up caring more about Cliff and Florence, Ruth’s brother
and her hardworking mother.
too many instances in the story that push the limits of
credulity - when Florence shows Ruth a photo of her father,
one that has been in plain sight for years; that Ruth never
asked about her father until she was a teenager; that Florence
could be so caring and responsible and yet so negligent, so
unaware of her only child’s issues, especially after already
losing a child; that Goldie could so easily run away from home
at 14, that a middle-school teacher would have time to deliver
assignments to every truant student’s home. These are just a
few examples of occurrences that didn’t ring true.
Sufficient motivation for many actions was lacking.
compelling positives in the production are the performances of
Marvette Knight and Di’Monte Henning in their roles as
Ruth’s mother and dead brother. Lonnae Hickman as Ruth
showed signs of life as the play progressed, and Katherine
Pollnow was inspired in her role as Goldie. Raeleen McMillion
gave some oomph to her cameo role as Goldie’s mother.
ending almost compensated for the somewhat lackluster quality
of the script. The costume alone held our attention, and
coupled with the dramatic flourishes of the speaker, made the
ending more memorable than what preceded it.
could definitely provoke some lively discussions with students
as they ponder their present situation and what they might do
to improve it. “To the Promised Land” is a worthy effort,
but it needs some work before reaching its lofty goal. Knowing
Daly, he’ll probably achieve it.
Finn’s set design was impressive, but if this was the house
that both families lived in 50 years apart, then both families
should have used the whole house, but that’s a blocking
by Sheri Williams Pannel, ‘To the Promised Land’ runs
through Feb. 10 in the Todd Wehr Theater at the Marcus Center
for the Performing Arts, 158 N. Water St., Milwaukee. For show
times and tickets, call 414-273-7206 or visit