Monday, November 7, 2016

Review of Polarity Ensemble Theatre's Leavings

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Leavings. It was by Gail Parrish and it was directed by Ashley Honore Roberson. It was about a one-hundred-and-eleven-year-old woman named Beatrice (RJW Mays) who was being interviewed by a reporter (Emily Radke) because she was the oldest person in the state. Beatrice is trying to prove that the governor of Mississippi's (Richard Engling) ancestor, who was a slave owner, was related to her as well because he had children with his slaves. She wants to lift a curse from her family so that they can live better lives. They were neglected and abused by their ancestor who gave the governor's family money and even people. And Beatrice's family has not been treated well by society because of their race. I think this is a really sad and moving show. It kept me engaged the whole time and I am so glad I saw it.

Beatrice's grandmother Tempe and her mother Sally were both played by the same person (Brianna Buckley). I thought that was very effective because it showed how strong their bond was with each other and how awful it would be for them to be torn apart. Their lives are also similar. When they are grown ups, one of them was a slave and the other was free, but they still had sadly very similar lives. Both of them did maid's work and both them were treated badly and raped by a white man. These characters made me very emotional because their past was so harrowing and I really wish I could have done something. I wanted to jump up on stage and hug whoever was sad at the time. Sally, even though so many terrible things happened to her, she really loved her children and her husband and she seemed to have part of her life be much better than her ancestors'. Tempe seemed to try to take control of her life when she starts doing her ritual, and that shows you that with the box she buries she seems to take some comfort. I think Tempe wants for the people that will come after her to be happier and live a more prosperous life. Tempe seems to think a lot about the future because she does so much for future generations and she is still in contact with the generations after her by being a ghost.

There are three terrible events in the show that involve people judging black men unfairly and then hurting or killing them. All of them are based on real stories. One of them I know actually happened in 1919 just like they said; and that was a man getting stoned and then drowning from his injuries at a beach for crossing the blacks and whites line. That happened in Chicago; I think if there is not a memorial on that beach, there should be. They tell this story not through actually showing it but by hearing Little Bea's (Asia Jackson) brother Rafe (Geno Walker) talk about it through a letter. This was effective because of the way he told it--he seemed so scared. Oseola (Evan Bruce) is another of her brothers who could pass as white. You can see why he might want to do that just to live an easier life. Their dad, Bea's dad, seemed to be a very nice guy, but the problem was that he would have fits of anger. He would try to help his family but he would feel powerless, like he couldn't. His anger propelled him a lot, but his anger was not at all unjustified. When he finds out his wife is raped, he doesn't go to the cops because he knows they won't do anything. So he takes matters into his own hands and awful things start to happen to him. I think this and the scene leading to it were the saddest scenes. I was crying. Later, there were cops (Bruce and Mutar Thomas) in 2016 who thought that Bea's grandson Benny (Walker) was going to break into cars because he was sitting near a parking lot. And then one of them punches him because Benny says he'll be praying for him because it seems like the cops were only aggressive with him before because he was black. This shows how everything isn't fixed. It might be better, but it isn't fixed.

You might think that this just a depressing sad play, but it has moments of hope. It is appropriate for things that are depressing and sad to be depressing and sad, but I think it does not undercut it to have some shimmer of hope at the end; it just makes the play a little more enjoyable. The hope is that racists can change their opinion. In the ending scene, Benny is at his grandmother's house with his Aunt Theresa (Monette McLin) and the governor of Mississippi calls and they start a conversation that you don't get to hear the rest of, but while they are talking, they seem to be talking to each other as equals, which I think is a beautiful ending. The governor believes that black men are neglecting their children and they have to do something about that. But he is not going to do anything; he just is going to tell people they need to do something. But by the end he realizes how unfair it is to African-American people to underestimate the damage that white men have done to their own black children in the past.

People who would like this show are people who like strong mother-daughter bonds, moving stories, and hope. I really liked this show. It made me think about a lot of sad but important things. I think people should go see this show. I thought it was beautiful and heartbreaking.

Photos: Jackie Jasperson

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