CHARLOTTE, NC – As Charlotte theatre companies continue to find ways to engage their audiences with more diverse and introspective material, the region has become increasingly interested in new works. Three Bone Theatre has been at the forefront of this movement, presenting regional and even state premieres at least once in their four show seasons. The company’s most recent premiere is Confederates by Dominique Morriseau, a complex and uncomfortable narrative that spans centuries of systemic bias through two Black women: Sandra (Valerie Thames), a tenured college professor, and Sara (Nonye Obichere), an enslaved person and Union spy. Morriseau’s raw dialogue charges audiences to draw their own connecting lines as these characters’ lives diverge, a bold departure from contemporary theatre’s tendency to preach a call to action.

Three Bone’s production leans on this juxtaposition through carefully plotted design. The intimate black box theater at the Arts Factory was transformed into a modified tennis court configuration. This ambitious staging proved incredibly successful, creating a sensation of unrest and division. Scenic designer Zachary Tarlton placed the worlds of Sandra and Sara at polar ends of the stage, with a timeless middle ground that served as a multipurpose location. This choice made the two women’s stories appear isolated from each other, aside from the double-cast actors that played different characters in both realms. Lighting and sound deepen the separation between the stories as cool and warm tones shift, and music crosses from contemporary to traditional. Throughout its 90-minute run time, the production toes the line between Sara and Sandra’s worlds with mentions of institutionalized racial discrimination. And it waits until the last second to let them collide in any other aspect.

Malike played by Daylen Jones

Despite the heaviness of its content, however, the production maintains steady momentum through Morriseau’s witty dialogue and exploration of other themes like sexuality and intracultural politics. Both women deal with their inability to conceive, Sara contends with her White mistress’s romantic affections toward her, and Sandra’s students wrestle with unconscious bias and its effect on their lives. All the while, urgency and humor keep this play barreling towards its end, which is a tremendous feat for the cast. While Morriseau’s writing is comedic, it is understated and dry, relying heavily on the actor’s timing. The Three Bone cast excelled in this test, proving just how spot-on their delivery could be. Daylen Jones (as Abner/Malik) and Holli Armstrong (as Missy Sue/Candice) particularly shined in their accuracy as they darted between two vastly different characters, nailing their respective physicalities and expressions while providing the audience moments of much-needed comedic relief.

In its entirety, Confederates is exactly what Three Bone Theatre has become known for in Charlotte. It is contemporary, challenging, complex, and still manages to entertain and educate audiences. The company’s partnership with the Center for Racial Equity in Education (CREED) further demonstrates their commitment to bringing thoughtfully crafted theatrical experiences to the Charlotte community. But I believe the importance of new works to this region was most clearly illustrated during the opening night curtain call of Confederates. Once the final words of the play were spoken, Sara and Sandra circled each other as they fully realized the other’s existence. We watched them silently reckon with the pervasive effects of slavery and racial discrimination. As if immersed in this momentary grief, the audience forgot to clap. But as Valerie Thames turned towards the rest of the cast making their way back onto the stage, we joined her in applause. And we gave them a standing ovation.

Confederates continues through Saturday, February 24. For more information on the run, see our calendar here.