A lot is remodeled whether or not one is “with God” or not in “Covenant,” a placing new Southern gothic work by York Walker. Following a city’s response to a bluesman’s mysterious homecoming in Thirties Georgia, this small, potent Roundabout Underground manufacturing sustains a scorching end-of-days tune as a lot via its electrical forged and design components as by Walker’s script and Tiffany Nichole Greene’s swift route.
Like every of the play’s 4 girls, the 24-year-old Avery (Jade Payton) craves salvation. However she’s not searching for a flight to heaven, like her overbearing Mama (Crystal Dickinson), or from neglect, like her youthful sister, Violet (Ashley N. Hildreth). Reasonably, she needs a sure sort of freedom. Ruthie (Lark White), a lovelorn neighbor grappling together with her nascent sexuality, feels the identical.
An opportunity at that freedom seems when a childhood good friend, Johnny (Chaundre Corridor-Broomfield), returns to city after a yearslong absence, touring faraway juke joints. A smooth-talking guitarist, Johnny has dropped his stutter and — rumor has it — picked up prodigious musical expertise from a pact with the Satan.
Walker nods on the legend of Robert Johnson, the real-life bluesman whose startling approach gave rise to a declare that he had traded his soul for fulfillment enjoying “the Satan’s music.” However, although that thriller informs this play’s efficient ghost story, “Covenant” is extra fascinated with unraveling the ladies’s belief in religion, self and each other to look at how emotions develop into codified into mythology.
The pious Mama thinks she will be able to spot a darkish spirit when she sees one and forbids Avery from spending time with Johnny. Seduced by his promise of a life larger than her repressive personal, she doesn’t obey, naturally, and shortly comes residence one evening with bruises and a humorous look in her eye. Because the locals chatter, gossiping about midnight sightings of Johnny on the graveyard, the play probes every girl’s relationship to truth and fiction.
Greene’s suspenseful manufacturing indulges in some elegant horror trappings, with characters typically plunged in darkness, holding a single match as they share tales of dishonest spouses and dangerous choices — private freedoms marked as evil as a result of they stray from cultural dogma.
Lawrence Moten’s claustrophobic set turns the viewers into the cramped congregation of a Gothic Revival church, the motion happening on both aspect of its nave and lit by Cha See. Steve Cuiffo’s illusions and Justin Ellington’s sound design, each chilling, lean deep into the story’s supernatural solutions.
However the play’s terror is finest conjured by Walker’s dialogue, which weaves rumor into legend and is delivered in gradient shades by a superb forged. As Avery and Johnny, Payton and Corridor-Broomfield play their scenes alluringly straight, and in her forceful flip as Violet, Hildreth believably generates highly effective, skeptical chemistry with White’s awe-struck Ruthie.
And Dickinson’s sanctimonious Mama comically punctuates every “lord” and “God” with the emphatic righteousness of a “T” sound, and together with her beaded eyeglass chain (courtesy of Ari Fulton’s costumes) seems to have tears completely mounted on her face.
The violence of her devotion is made eerily bodily in a choreographed prayer sequence (with motion overseen by Stephen Buescher) that exhibits the carnality typically inherent in faith, which might site visitors as a lot in darkness as within the mild it claims to hunt.
If Walker reverse-engineers sure beats a bit too cleanly with a view to expose the characters’ hypocrisies, his twists and developments are nonetheless satisfying. Working with nice financial system, Walker’s “Covenant” is an auspicious New York debut for a playwright who clearly has a present for richly textured work.
By Dec. 3 on the Black Field Theater, on the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Middle for Theater, Manhattan; roundabouttheatre.org. Working time: 1 hour 35 minutes.