The Good Negro
This is an excellent evening of theatre for a multitude of reasons. Tracey Scott Wilson has taken on the myth of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, the Birmingham bombing and molded a tale of her own. Liberties are taken and storytelling happens. This production also benefits from an extraodrinary cast and a director with an eye to the visual as well as an ear for the text.
James Lawrence (Curtis McClarin), a minister trying to foment a movement is stymied. He cannot get a hook into the public consciousness, which means the white consciousness, which means the media. He has been going from place to place to preach and prod. The Klan is after him and the FBI is bugging his phone, his table and his bed. When a young black mother Claudette Sullivan (Joniece Abbott-Pratt) and her tiny daughter are jailed for using a Whites Only toilet, Lawrence thinks he may have found his hook. He is looking for a Good Negro behind which a country can rally, and in this mother lies possibility.
In order to make it all happen, however, he has to go through the father Pelzie Sullivan (Francois Battiste), avoid the FBI and convince his own coterie of followers. This is the story we see ï¿½ not the flashy mythical scenes so many of us remember ï¿½ we see people trodding overlapping paths and watch what happens when they bump into one another.
Liesl Tommy has staged this play with imagination and finesse and the actors come together with the grace of a company of dancers. The FBI rarely leave the stage, and their physical intimacy with their subjects combined with their own interaction does more than any speech to convey the legal quicksand surrounding the Cicil Rights Movement. Gary Thomas Rowe Jr. (Erik Jensen), as the local guy experiencing his 15 minutes of fame undercover inside the Klan wears his hooded uniform with a pride that is unsettling to feel so close by. It is ultimately Francois Battiste who blindsides us with his portrayal of Pelzi Sullivan. He is unassuming, powerful and grounded and the result is that The Good Negro ultimately becomes, not the story of a leader, but the story of a father who lives in a shack on the side of a dirt road in Jim Crow country.
Because of Wilsonï¿½s choice to follow the better story rather than the famous one, we are allowed to enter the house through the back door. We get to sit down at the kitchen table and watch the sausage being made. We are privy to secrets. We get the goods.
What the press had to say.....
"a skillful new historical drama"
New York Times
"a good play getting an equally fine production "
New York Daily News
"History this important is too vital to be cherry-picked."
New York Post
"abounds in moments of raucous humor, as well as passages of moving affection and friendship"
"riveting, emotionally devastating play"
"engrossing, highly theatrical take on the burgeoning civil rights movement in Birmingham, Ala., in the early 1960s."
"It's meaty, engrossing theater, staged very well, and it continuously keeps us on our toes, even after we've left the building. "
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