I, like John H., came away from this believing that this is really a play that everyone in town should see. The cast is incredibly talented, the Fisk chapel is beautiful*, and the stories are gripping.
I love the premise, too, of focusing not on the leaders of the Civil Rights movement, but of the ordinary people from Nashville who made the movement what it is.
And John H. is right, that the stories are so compelling.
And I think that’s the major problem with the play. My friend, the Playwright, once told me that it’s important to get out of the way of the story, that, if you’ve got something good, know enough to let it speak for itself.
And there were times when I felt like the writer of this play didn’t get out of the way of the story. For instance, there’s a moment where two characters are standing on stage. One is telling a story about how stupid fear is and the other is telling a story about how powerful it is.
They’re alternating back and forth. One speaks for a little bit and the other speaks for a little bit. Their stories share certain touchstones, but are vastly different. And the story about how powerful fear is is just so terrible and so well-delivered by the actor that, if it stood alone, it would bring you to your knees. But instead, the emotional power of that piece is mitigated by the contrast with that other piece and it would have been easily solved by just having the stupid fear guy deliver his piece and then the powerful fear guy deliver his piece. People would still have had the juxtaposition, but the emotional power of the second piece would not have been lost.
In college, I took a civil rights history class from Paul Bushnell, a white guy who was here in Nashville during that time and who was a member of SNCC, so I feel like I have just about as thorough an introduction to the Movement as a common person who didn’t live through it can have, and I had a really hard time understanding when things in the play were taking place.
I imagine a lot of folks who are a lot less familiar with it could have used some touchstones as well, maybe a brief outline of events in the program or something.
And I wanted to see some brief mention of folks like Professor Bushnell, white people who stood up, too, and joined the Movement, but he always said that his story wasn’t important, so what do I know? Maybe that’s true.
But these are just minor criticisms. It’s always easier to nit pick than to talk about what worked. And the truth is that there’s not any thing else like this, no good way of really viscerally putting you there, other than with work like this and it’s worth it to see it.
And this is a beautiful, well-acted story of our friends and neighbors.
Go see it, if you can.
*With one caveat–go to the bathroom before the play or sneak outside and go where the security guards aren’t looking. By god, do not use the bathrooms in the chapel. You’ll be lucky if you survive the stairs. I realize that people were much smaller at the end of the 1800s than they are now, but did they also have very long shins and short thighs? Because, otherwise, I guess I’m not sure how they negotiated those steep stairs with any ease.
And, dang, do I want to hear some good Fisk ghost stories. There must be some.