note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
Although Company One’s production of Tracey Scott Wilson’s play, “The Good Negro,” is fictitious but based on authentic facts and events, it packs a powerful message, enhanced with realistic sound and visual effects and characters closely resembling iconic Civil Rights leaders.
Part of Wilson’s goal is to make audiences aware of behind-the-scenes plotting in racist, hate-fueled Birmingham, Ala. in 1962, but also enlighten them regarding the humanity of Civil Rights demigods, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy and others. Wilson also exposes the underhanded methods of FBI chief, J. Edgar Hoover, his agents, and the malevolent, unspeakable deeds of the Ku Klux Klan.
Wilson stresses although Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was hailed as a meteoric hero and non-violent savior of the Blacks, he had his weaknesses - an insatiable appetite for the ladies. “I’m only a man,” his fictitious counterpart cries here, as the political and racial tempest swirls around him.
Masterfully directed by Summer L. Williams, “The Good Negro” opens violently, as young mother Claudette Sullivan is beaten, dragged away, and arrested for taking her 4-year-old daughter Shelly into a “Whites‘ Only” department store ladies‘ restroom. The play continues with one tension-riddled scene after another. Oftentimes, the small stage is divided into three sections simultaneously. FBI agents Paul Moore ( played by Jonathan Overby) and Steve Moore (Jeff Mahoney) wire-tap and tape conversations at the Rev. James Lawrence’s makeshift headquarters in Birmingham, and enlist local hate-monger, police wannabe Gary Thomas Rowe Jr., (Greg Maraio) to infiltrate and incite the Ku Klux Klan. Cristina Todesco’s superb lighting effects shifts from Rev. Lawrence’s home and office, where he and his wife, Corinne, share tender moments, and he and his organizers, Henry Evans and Bill Rutherford, strategize marches, church and community meetings. They also engage victim Claudette Sullivan (Marvelyn McFarlane), her cautious blue collar husband, Pelzie (James Milord), and little Shelly in their crusade at her home - a shack on the edge of town - that suddenly bursts into a blinding, explosion.
Jason Webber’s realistic sound design, coupled with historic projected images on a background screen, are deeply moving.
Jonathan L. Dent as Rev. James Lawrence is an uncanny likeness to Martin Luther King Jr.. He exudes the same gift of oration, charm, and calm, while exposing his weaknesses. Cedric Lilly as educated Black organizer Bill Rutherford of Switzerland is delightful, while Cliff Odle as Evans, a Ralph Abernathy composite, is dedicated to his boss and a blustery, at times formidable competitor to Rutherford. Kris Sidberry as Lawrence’s devoted wife Corinne, bears a striking resemblance to Coretta Scott King’s gracious demeanor.
Martin Luther King Jr. preached he had been to the mountain, and his belief in non-violent marches and protests, would one day ring with freedom. Wilson’s play is a stinging, yet gentle reminder of how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go.
BOX INFO: Two-act, 2-1/2-hour drama, written by Tracey Scott Wilson, New England premiere with Company One, at BCA (Boston Center for the Arts) Plaza Theatre, 539 Tremont Street, South End, Boston, through February 6. Showtimes, Wednesday, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 6 only, 4,8 p.m. Admission, $30-$38; students, $15; seniors, $30. Wild Wednesdays tickets, $18. Visit BostonTheatreScene.com or call 617-933-8600.