“Savior Samuel” Celebrates 15th Anniversary of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Company


Set of Savior Samuel prior to performance

Sam Bisno, Editor-in-Chief

“A lesson sixteen years in the making.” This is the very first line in the program of Savior Samuel, a new Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company (PPTCO) production by Mark Clayton Southers. Southers, an award-winning playwright and resident of the Hill District, explains in a candid written introduction how the play had sat in a box in his attic since 2002 after a guest took issue with its subject matter during an initial reading. It was only after Artistic Associate (and eventual director) Monteze Freeland inquired about staging one of Southers’s plays in celebration of the company’s fifteenth year of existence that Savior once again saw the light of day.

Set in the Midwest circa 1877, Savior centers around an African-American couple and their young daughter, Essie (Aaliyah Sanders), who becomes mysteriously impregnated. Like Sanders, Essie is deaf, meaning she is unable to disclose who the father is. Despite being unwanted by seemingly everyone, the baby proves capable of performing miracle after miracle, as those who touch him invariably undergo an inexplicable recovery from whatever is plaguing them, resulting in a grand — if somewhat predictable — reveal.

Notwithstanding its lack of polish at times — the first and second acts feel somewhat disjointed, some interactions seem out of place or altogether unnecessary, and its message is expounded without much subtlety — Savior Samuel manages to explore themes of race, ownership, and family in an engaging and provocative manner. It is technically impressive: the set, designed by Diane Melchitzky, is impeccable; the lighting (Latrice Lovett) is effective in setting the mood of each scene; and the score (Dwayne Fulton), although sometimes a tad overbearing, is moving. But the acting is where the play really shines: every character, from the stalwart but misguided Benjamin (Wali Jamal) to the good-natured but conflicted Doctor Rory (Jonathan Berry) to the comical Dukem (Sam Lothard), is masterfully portrayed. The result is a theatrically solid production hindered only slightly by a rough-around-the-edges plot.

Yesterday marked the end of the play’s run, but keep your eyes peeled for upcoming PTTCO shows.