A Final Resting Place – Review of “The Coffin Maker”

By Claire DeMarco

Oklahoma in 1849 was still a territory, not yet a state. One can only imagine the turmoil that existed in this wild and semi-stable land.

Lawrence Ebitt (Garbie Dukes), a free black man and his wife Eula Ebitt (Robin R. McGee), still enslaved, live in Oklahoma in a relatively calm environment. People who use Lawrence’s services didn’t fight, argue or even complain. Lawrence is a coffin maker.

When bounty hunter Evan Wainwright Hollister (Randy Kovitz) descends into their world, they are thrown into situations that defy calmness and peace. Hollister just killed fugitive The Dead Man (Brandon St. Clair) and deposits his body in Lawrence’s care, demanding that the corpse be prepared for burial with a two-day deadline.

This seemingly routine demand spirals into a turbulent situation, throwing Lawrence and Eula’s world upside down.

Robin R. McGee and Garbie Dukes in THE COFFIN MAKER at Pittsburgh Public Theater.

Dukes is effective in using his facial movements (eye rolls, tilt of the head) and subtle body moves. We know exactly how and what he is feeling without any vocals. His silent deliveries are golden. When he does speak, he becomes a caring but sometimes sparring husband or a man with a plan willing to adjust to any situation.

McGee is outstanding as the religious wife who accepts her fate as an enslaved human as this is the only world she knows. McGee runs the gamut of human emotion. She is combative with Lawrence (in a loving and at times nagging way), serious when the situation warrants. Her comedic timing is spot on. She has a lovely singing voice on the few occasions when she feels the need to seek solace with song.

Robin R. McGee, Connor McCanlus, and Garbie Dukes in THE COFFIN MAKER at Pittsburgh Public Theater.

The chemistry between Dukes and McGee is palpable!

Hired to photograph a corpse, Connor McCanlus characterizes Buchannon as naïve, almost oblivious to the situation he’s in. His humor is enhanced by his physical movements and posture.

Kovitz plays a stereotypical white man of that time who without hesitation barges into Lawrence and Eula’s home and lives. He is believable as the cocky and belligerent man with a gun as his support system. He emanates weakness without the gun.

St. Clair relays emotionally, passionately and powerfully on the evils of slavery and those who support it. He compares his current situation to the heritage of his proud ancestors and his denigration as an enslaved human being. His performance is strong.

This is a wonderful play with the right balance of pathos and comic relief set in a time when slavery was prevalent in certain parts of the country. Slavery affected three of the characters in different, profound ways.

The monochromatic set design with various shades of brown and tan wood by Tony Ferrieri is striking. Subtle suggestions of color exist in the bedroom set on the second floor of the building.

Lighting Designer Latrice Lovett complements the set design through her brilliant use of lighting and shade.

Monteze Freeland does an excellent job in his directorial debut at the Public.

Kudos to Pittsburgher and playwright Mark Clayton Southers for writing such an insightful play. There is not a better way or better venue to celebrate its premiere debut than in Pittsburgh at Pittsburgh Public Theater!


“The Coffin Maker” is a production of Pittsburgh Public Theater. Performances run from May 29th – June 16th at the O’Reilly Theater. For more information, click here. 

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