Ragtime is a direct reflection of America and how far we’ve come and much further we have to go as a country,” says actor Nkrumah Gatling, who plays pianist Coalhouse Walker Jr., a leading character in the musical running through Oct. 20 at the Arden Theatre Co.

“Though it takes place a hundred years ago, racism, sexism, classicism, immigration, and women’s rights — these are all things that are a struggle for us as a country,” he says. “When audiences see that, it’s something they take home.”

Based on the 1975 E.L. Doctorow novel, Ragtime adapted by Terrence McNally with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty — tells the story of three families in the early 20th century — one from Harlem, one from the upper-class suburbs, and a set of Jewish immigrants from Latvia.

Gatling describes his character as a “well-rounded, emotionally available African American man. You don’t see many others like that in the canon. There is really no other character like him.

“You really go on a journey with him,” Gatling says. “He’s someone you love. By Act Two, he’s pulling terroristic acts, but you’re on his side.”

Gatling, who also played Coalhouse in the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Theatre’s 2018 production in Center Valley, says Arden’s version is more intimate because Terry Nolen, Arden’s artistic director, has staged it in the round.

“I think it brings a different level to the performing, because you have to consciously include the audience,” Gatling says. “The audience is closer, and they can see you. You can’t hide. It makes you not be a lazy actor. You are always doing something.”

Gatling, who hails from Texas and now lives in New York, has Philly ties. He toured here with Porgy and Bess and Hair. His sister, Alice Gatling, won a 2014 Philadelphia Barrymore award — the Charlotte Cushman Award for Outstanding Leading Actress in a Play — for her role in Gidion’s Knot staged by the InterAct Theatre Company. His cousin, Melanye Finister, is in People’s Light’s resident company.

Synge Festival: Irish theater, Irish stout

In celebration of J.M. Synge, one of Ireland’s finest writers, Quintessence Theatre Group will present all his works — theater and poems — over the course of the run, through Oct. 27. Play performances will alternate — three short plays in one night switching on other nights with one longer play, the Playboy of the Western World.

That 1907 classic is about a guy who shoots his allegedly abusive dad, and then the truth is revealed. Due to the “indecent” nature of the performance (it references ladies’ undies, for one thing), riots ensued both when the play premiered in Dublin and when it came to in Philadelphia in January 1912.

Served with poetry readings and Irish stout.

And kudos go …

… to Ed Shockley, author of more than 50 plays and the winner of 2019 Theatre Philadelphia’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 2012, the Philadelphia playwright who gave voice to so many characters temporarily lost his ability to speak and walk due to a serious stroke and has since largely recovered. He was surprised last month by the honor, announced during the Barrymore Awards nomination event at the Cherry Street Pier.

Shockley said in an interview that the many indignities he endured as a person of color made him determined to write his own work and to amplify the work of other theater people. “When the world was attacking me," he said, "I wanted to learn as much as I could so I could be what I wanted to be.”

Other Barrymore winners will be announced Oct. 14.

Jane Von Bergen reports news and notes from the theater scene in and around Philadelphia. janevonbtheater@gmail.com