Thanks to the power of the tricky little cell phone, many blissfully ignorant Americans (let’s be generous and give them the benefit of the doubt) have begun to discover how easy it is for a colored man to be killed by those who are responsible for serving and protecting the collective population. A public already exhausted by COVID lockdowns, the loss of careers and loved ones, and with a newfound understanding of the life of a public school teacher took to the streets in droves, proclaiming that Black Lives Matter . It was affirming to see that the crowds of protesters seemed to represent a demographic that crossed racial, gender and age lines, and those hoping for a better future seemed to embrace hope with new fervor.
Now, what are, precisely, the “victories” of this movement so far? How many of us can denounce them? The list is painfully small, so it’s not too much of a burden (how could it be?) to memorize them. Have we made “enough” difference? Are some lives safer than they might have been before?
The only partners in the war against calculated racial erasure who can answer this question are the people so many have sworn to save. And they don’t have the time or the energy to submit to our interview, because hate can only be surrounded, not killed, and if you are ‘other’, survival is your calling.
Terry Guest’s play, “The Magnolia Ballet,” takes over one of the Den Theater stages, courtesy of the About Face Theater from May 12 to June 11. The piece is categorized as “Southern Gothic Fable”, a moniker worth unboxing. First came English Gothic, then American, then Southern, the latter said to contain “irrational, horrible and transgressive thoughts, desires and impulses; grotesque figures; dark humor and a general sense of anxious alienation. If you feel like a little Edgar Allan Poe, Southern Gothic literature is your new best friend.
Memories and ghosts roam the halls and live within the walls of the home of Ezekiel, a seventeen-year-old gay black boy, and his father. Generations of family secrets and passions float in the air, rest on every surface and become embedded in the pores of everyone’s skin. Heartbreaking poetry occurs, created on its feet by characters searching for a moment of truth or a more digestible lie. The dance explodes with joy, then turns deadly. The actors metamorphose from one character to another to flesh out the city, and to highlight its bloody disparities. Danny is a seventeen year old white boy, “straight” but busy. The apparitions chant, sing, predict, ask old and unanswered questions, and pontificate. Will Ezekiel’s father sell the house and move them away from Georgia? Can the tensions of several generations between the boy’s families be eliminated? And what about the sincere love letters written to the grandfather and found by his grandson?
While the play is as steeped in memory as Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie,” the important catechisms at the heart of the story are repeatedly illuminated by moments such as the devious breaking of the fourth wall, music by Britney Spears and the appearance of Scarlett O’Hara. The characters are sexy in the most satisfying way. Guest didn’t write an epitaph for a headstone, rather he wrote a story of hope in the midst of unimaginable pain. Georgia, with its humid heat, swamps, alligators and magnolias, is a central character, sometimes unlovable, seemingly impossible to escape. And while Guest is writing a trilogy (it’s the first, and the second, “Oak,” is already on the table), Georgia is certain to remain as much of a force in those stories as she found herself in the political landscape of the country. .
This “Magnolia Ballet” is directed by Mikael Burke, associate artistic director of the AFT. A frequent guest collaborator, Burke had an early entry into the play’s trajectory. “As a queer black male raised in the American South, this piece is extremely important to me,” Burke says. “No young person should ever feel the way I felt, like they were wrong just to exist. This piece forces us all to consider the legacy of toxic masculinity and racism in this country. is a play that demands that we all struggle against the ghosts of our prejudices and recognize where the rules we established to survive have become the killers of a new generation.Meanwhile, Guest offered us potential healing, inviting parents to try to love their children in the way they need, and children to accept the love that their parents are able to give them.
Choreographer Jenn Freeman will create the movement directly on the actors, hoping that they will internalize the dramatic or comedic form of the movement and make new choices at regular intervals. Original music will be provided by Brian Grimm, who will be in residence during the rehearsal process.
If we want to mitigate the struggles of the “other”, we have to walk many miles in their place. Although it may seem like a tall order, the world of the arts gives us the windows through which to peek, and these images, followed properly, will give us our individual and personal marching orders, tell us what we we can “do”. about that.” One such educational adventure is “The Magnolia Ballet.” What’s that jingle I hear?
It’s the school bell.
About Face Theater at Den Theater, 1331 North Milwaukee, aboutfacetheatre.com(773)784-8565.