February 6, 2015

It always seems slightly superhuman, that luminosity some actors possess. Lillias White had it back in 1997, when she won a Tony Award for playing a middle-aged prostitute in The Life, and she is incandescent still as an elderly poet-songstress in Alan Govenar’s Texas in Paris, at the York Theater Company. Giving a glorious, glamour-free performance in sensible shoes, Ms. White provides the emotional center of gravity for a musical play that is as much about race relations in America as it is about the spirituals and cowboy songs that run through it. Based on a real concert series that Mr. Govenar produced in 1989, Texas in Paris is a kind of adventure for an unworldly odd couple of outsider musicians: Osceola Mays (Ms. White), a South Dallas widow and the granddaughter of a slave, travels to France with John Burrus (Scott Wakefield), a former rodeo cowboy and a white man who is sure he has “nothin’ against black folks.” “You on welfare?” he asks Osceola, before they even get on the plane. If Mr. Govenar were following the conventional trajectory of such tales, we would watch John evolve. Texas in Paris tells a more interesting and uncomfortable story, even if it does end on a musical high note and even if too much of the dialogue might be deadly in lesser hands.