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Spotlight: Glynn Turman in ‘Joe Turner’s Come and Gone’

Glynn Turman as Bynum, right, lives in the boarding house run by Seth Holly (Keith David) in the Mark Taper Forum's 'Joe Turner's Come and Gone.'
(Craig Schwartz)

Sometimes a performance is so finely adept that you forget the actor and see only the character. The dancer is inseparable from the dance, to borrow Yeats’ timeless formulation.

Glynn Turman’s portrayal of Bynum in the stunning Mark Taper Forum revival of “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” is such a performance. Playing an older boardinghouse resident with clairvoyant vision and a penchant for old country magic, Turman makes this eccentric character seem so natural that it’s as if he wandered into the theater from an open door backstage.

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You accept Bynum’s quirks, even his voodoo with dead pigeons in the backyard, as you accept the presence of an odd stranger seated opposite you on a bus. There’s no arguing with reality, even in its stranger guises, and the soulful kindness of Turman’s Bynum takes the snap out of our judgment.

REVIEW: A shattered land tries to pull back together in ‘Joe Turner’

This is a man who has lived long and somehow survived it all. Life for him is more than a practical problem to be worked out--it’s a spiritual journey through a shifting terrain of cotton fields and urban crowds, a landscape as beautifully surreal as it is all-too-painfully real.

Key to the success of Phylicia Rashad’s lucid, actor-centered production is the interaction between Turman’s Bynum and John Douglas Thompson’s Herald Loomis, the drifter who’s searching for his wife after years of captivity. Bynum recognizes the source of Loomis’ wound yet he understands as well as Lady Macbeth’s doctor that in cases such as these “the patient must minister to himself.”

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Part witch doctor, part psychoanalyst, Bynum leads Loomis into a recognition of his own healing power through his empathetic wisdom. Thompson undergoes an earthquake of cathartic emotion, but activating this fault line is the quiet unassuming majesty of Turman’s acting.

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