At seven years old, I thought I knew everything there was to know about living a fulfilling life. For me, the path to happiness was simple: become a famous artist, adopt three dogs, and live in a mansion on the lake. However, I soon realized that life wasn’t as easy as I made it out to be. But with these fanciful dreams no longer clouding my thoughts, there were times when I no longer knew who I was, where I fit into my community, or what I wanted to do with my life. This kind of teenage existential crisis is common amongst my peers, and perhaps this is why playwright Eisa Davis wrote Bulrusher, a coming-of-age story about the pathway to self-discovery.
Bulrusher, set in the year 1955, is a production directed by Valerie Curtis-Newton at the Intiman Theatre. When we first meet Bulrusher (Ayo Tushinde), she is a young woman, living in the small logging and farming town of Boonville. The Boonville residents speak a combination of English and Boontling—an elaborate, esoteric lingo known only by the locals. As an infant, Bulrusher was abandoned in a basket set free along the Navarro River, before eventually being found and raised by an old schoolteacher named Schoolch (Charles Leggett). Eighteen years later, she spends her time running her own orange business, getting schooled by the local brothel owner Madame (Christine Pilar), and being serenaded with love songs by a local teenage boy (Adam Fontana). But as one of just two people of color in Boonville, Bulrusher is a misfit in her traditional, white, working-class rural community. She copes with her struggles of belonging by spending time besides the river that kept her alive as a baby. Reginald André Jackson, Adam Fontana, and Charles Leggett in Bulrusher. Photo by Naomi Ishisaka.