The Trayvon Martin Project (Part 1)
Beth Marshall Presents
In conjunction with Valencia College and Penguin Point Productions
Presented at Valencia College, Orlando FL
“Why can’t we all just get along?” That question first appears sometime around the New Testament, and over the centuries Blacks, Jews, Armenians, Native Americans and countless others have been enslaved, mistreated and abused by whatever neighboring group was a bit stronger. The shooting of Trayvon Martin by an armed and dangerous Neighborhood Watch patrolman is just another in a series of random acts of violence, but it made headlines for any number of reasons ranging from the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law to George Zimmerman’s ethnicity. To explore the murky questions surrounding this high profile murder Beth Marshall Productions has commissioned a group of short plays based on the event and thereby touched our hearts and bothered our souls.
Bracketing the evening is John DiDonna reenacting a Sanford version of “Our Town” (by James Brendlinger, directed by Beth Marshall.) Sanford’s the buckle of Florida’s Lynching Belt, and like many southern towns it’s stratified, closed to outsiders and used to doing its own thing its own way. DiDonna’s monologue starts with dry facts and historical figures and ends with bodies and blood. Then it’s on to Steve Schneider’s “The Items” (dir. Paul Castaneda); he takes us to a Congressional Hearing. The debate is whether or not to allow the sales of certain “Items” that may be offensive. Testimony on either side is rather thin, but the performance of Barry White as Senator Herbert is superbly funny; in the talk back he even calls himself “Senator Foghorn Leghorn.” “Something To Do” (by Rob Winn Anderson, dir. Beth Marshall) is the toughest to read; here kids are hanging out (presumably in Sanford) and hoping for some excitement. This comes when an opportunity to brick someone to within an inch of his life appears in the lobby. Jarringly, the brutal brick is wielded by Viet-Dung Nguyen, a scary reversal from his more ethereal performances of mysticism and Coming to America. We wrap up the first act with the family drama “Endangered Species” (by Dennis Neal, Dir. Paul Castaneda). Here Barry White and Michael Sapp are two fathers; they complain about life and hope to teach their children to keep alive on the streets. Trayvon (Kerry Alce) and Jordan (Stelson Telfort) are cocky yet confident, but we already know the Chekhovian ending to this family drama.
Act Two opens with “Worthless” (by Paris Crayton III, dir. John Didonna). We follow confused Darius (Stelson Telfort) as he struggles with the existential dilemma of Being Black In America. His psychologist (Becky Eck) wants him to talk, his mother wants him to be safe, and his girlfriend (Gabi Hockensmith) just wants to make out. His life might be normal if he just managed his fear and carefully planned his travels, but he wants more. We close with “ISMS” (by Janine Klein, dir. Beth Marshall). Here we come closest to George Zimmerman’s (Stephen Lima) view of the events. His viewpoint is important but minimized, I see it as necessary to complete the story but it’s the one facet we will likely never hear: only he knows what really happened that night and it’s clearly not in his interest to change his already wobbly story. Thus we can only surmise the worst.
It’s the Talk Back that’s the real center of this performance; the audience was slow to start but once they got rolling there were few who did not comment. The crowd this evening was mostly parents and relatives of the actors; they told their own stories of discriminations, fear and regret. One woman claimed she was moving to Thailand, another broke down in tears over her similar experiences in WW2, and a man from Louisiana retold how he has spent most of his life living separate from whites. The general consensus was America was spiraling out of control, and only doom, despair and deep, dark agony lie ahead. But events like this show there is potential to talk and heal and work for a better America. But that’s not what the media wants to sell us, and what other source of information do we have?
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