Nothing makes a room silent the way jokes about racism and injustice do – the ones that hit home and sit an uncomfortable reality at our kitchen tables. Jokes some of us have thought ourselves. Jokes many of us have heard others utter. Jokes that remind us of the evil that still exists in our worlds.
Producing artistic director Raymond O. Caldwell showcases this evil, and infuses it with lots of good in Theater Alliance’s production of Dominque Morisseau’s Blood at the Root.
This powerful production’s essence is youthful disruption, innocence and hatred, history and authenticity, delivering an experience that will at times have you laughing, and at other times silent in thought.
Set in a town in Louisiana at the fictional Cedar High School, Blood at the Root is inspired by the tragic 2006 event at a high school in Jena, Louisiana – you may remember the story of the Jena Six. There was a tree at the school that only the white students sat under and nooses appeared under the tree the day after a black student sat by the tree. After a fight broke out at the school, six student were initially charged with attempted murder of Justin Barker – all of them black. This was Morisseau’s inspiration for Blood at the Root, which gets its name from Billie Holiday’s song “Strange Fruit” (“Southern trees bear a strange fruit / Blood on the leaves and blood at the root”).
From the opening, the dance number got the energy up and ‘girl power’ reigned throughout the evening – as it should. The audience is also invited to be authentic in behaving and reacting how they want throughout the night, via the ‘Rules of Engagement.’ The overall standout moments were the monologues, which were not only insightful and just good plan storytelling, but parts that actors owned for themselves. They were simply amazing.
The play’s leading role was Raylynn (played by Billie Krishawn, who is consistently excellent). She embodied raw emotion and sat it right in front of attendees to see – to feel – to be. We were amazed by her charm, ability, personification of the role, … by her on cue tears. Krishawn belongs in Hollywood. Read that again.
Emmanuel Kyei-Baffour (character De’Andre) was on point. Still, I would have wanted his accent to match the story setting – it seemed challenging for him to shake the DC/PG county twang. Molly Shayna Cohen played ‘Asha’ well enough for attendees to never tired of her. Her sharp wit and humorous retorts were spot on.
Blood at the root is disturbing business as usual. Raymond O. Caldwell and Theater Alliance have outdone themselves this is a must see.production.
Running Time: One hour 35 minutes, with no intermission.
Blood at the Root by Dominique Moriseau and Directed by Raymond O. Caldwell plays through March 24th at Theater Alliance performing at Anacostia Playhouse in DC. Purchase tickets.
Cast: Molly Shayna Cohen, Billie Krishawn, Stephanie Wilson, Emmanuel Kyei-Baffour, Deimoni Brewington, Paul Roeckell, Imani Branch, Charles H. Franklin IV, Jordan Clark Halsey, Maria Mainelli, Alex Turner. Assistant Directors —Aria Velz and Timothy Thompson. Choreography—Tiffany Quinn. Scenic Design — Jonathan Dahm Robertson. Lighting – Alberto Segarra. Costumes –Amy MacDonald. Projections –Alexandra Kelly Colburn. Stage manager – Thomas Nagata. Sound – T.W. Starnes.
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