Theatre Raleigh has chosen David Thompson's The Scottsboro Boys as the grand finale to its 2019 Summer Series, and what a way to go out!
Through the controversial "art" of minstrelsy, this production tells the harrowing true story of nine young men who, in 1931, were falsely accused of rape and unjustly had their lives changed forever.
As the men endure prison time and trial after trial, the audience follows their every struggle and heartache. The play also takes a close look at the racist world that existed in depression-era America and beyond and challenges viewers to consider both the progress we’ve made, as well as the changes that have yet to be enacted.
Perhaps what stands out most in this emotional production, beautifully directed by Gerry Mcintyre, is its intentional incongruity. This horrific story is told with alarming humor and revelry, as if holding up a mirror to the ugliness of the minstrelsy format it utilizes. The entire production is disconcerting and uncomfortable from start to finish because of this powerful and purposeful disconnect between message and delivery.
Unrelenting in its intensity, the fast-moving play makes full use of its short runtime with chilling scenes, including one in which the youngest of the Scottsboro Boys, Eugene (Michael Lassiter) is mercilessly teased and taunted about taking a trip to the electric chair. The sweet innocence Lassiter infuses into his portrayal make this scene and, indeed, all of his scenes even more poignant.
Also powerful here is Darius Jordan Lee’s portrayal of Haywood, perhaps the most angry of all the accused. With a powerful mix of bitterness, pride, and determination, Lee brings Haywood to life, effectively portraying the character as he learns to write and as he painfully discovers what integrity means to him and what it will cost him.
Equally important as the actors who make up the nine title characters, David Robbins and Jason Daniel Rath lead the show as Mr. Bones and Mr. Tambo, operating in and beyond roles that directly hearken to archetypes seen in minstrelsy. Together, the duo strike a perfect balance between humor and driving home some of the show’s more powerful themes.
Told with the aid of powerful lighting effects and Mcintyre’s intricate choreography, this multi-layered story might not be “fun” to watch, but it is important and meaningful, all the way down to the incredible, moving ending that had the opening night audience up on its feet in a display of solidarity.
Any show that can move people, both figuratively and literally, the way that this one does is definitely deserving of a viewing, despite- or perhaps because of- the subject matter.
We love the arts. We write about them. Founded 2018.