WARRIORS DON'T CRY (Regional Premiere)by Melba Pattillo Beals
Adapted for the stage by Eisa Davis
African American Repertory Theater
Direction by Vince McGill
Production Management by Regina Washington
Stage Management by Julia Cotton
Scenic Design and Set Construction by Dave Tenney
Lighting Design by Nikki DeShea Smith
Sound Design by Vince McGill
Costume Design by Crickett Pettigrew
Video Production by Adam Dietrich, Elliot Gilbert II, Mark Hovland
Melba Pattillo - Regina Washington
Reviewed Performance: 6/3/2012
Reviewed by Richard Blake, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
As an innocent teenager and an unexpected hero, Melba Pattillo turned sixteen in 1957. That was also the year she became a warrior on the front lines of a civil rights firestorm. Following the landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education, Melba was one of nine teenagers chosen to integrate Little Rock's Central High School.
Throughout her harrowing ordeal, Melba was taunted by her schoolmates and their parents, threatened by a lynch mob's rope, attacked with lighted sticks of dynamite. But through it all, she acted with dignity and courage and refused to back down. This is her remarkable story adapted from her book of the same name.
White students and some parents spat at and mocked the integrating students. The Nine also faced mobs that forced President Dwight D. Eisenhower to send in the 101st Airborne Division to protect their lives after the governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, used troops to block the Nine's entry to the school. At least one white student, a senior named Link, helped her avoid dangerous areas during the school day and a few Central High students were benign and even slightly helpful, but for the most part she and the other black students faced daily hostility and persecution.
Included in this stage adaptation is one extreme incident in which a segregationist student threw acid into her eyes, attempting to blind her. Pattillo planned on returning to Central High for the 1958-59 school year but Governor Faubus shut down Little Rock's high schools that failed to resist integration, leading other school districts across the South to do the same. Not until the fall of 1960 did Central High reopen on an integrated basis.
Vince McGill's direction of this one woman show is executed very well. The Corner Theatre is a lovely, intimate, proscenium space that puts the audience basically on stage with the action. Mr. McGill uses a sparsely presented stage to represent the important locations of this story and they work wonderfully. Melba's bedroom and living room has simple chairs and a desk.
He directs his talented actress through the other multiple locations, inside and out, with precise movement coordinated with the lighting and projected scenery. His talent as a director is truly noted with his decisions in this production.
Dave Tenney's scenic design is simple yet beautiful. The story told on stage is what is important in this production and Mr. Tenney allows for that. Using a large white cyclorama wrapping the back of the stage and another smaller in front, the scenery is projected on those cycloramas and their physical placement is well done.
Video production by Adam Dietrich, Elliot Gilbert II and Mark Hovland works well in most cases. However there seems to be formatting issues with the size of the video and images of locations and historical references. When the projections fill the beautiful cycloramas you are engulfed in the scene. In cases where very small images and video sequences are shown, they are hard to see and sometimes distract more than enhance the presentation. Overall however, the concept does work.
The lighting design by Nikki DeShea Smith is very well done. Ms. Smith's use of specials and rich color only when necessary are a true testament to her skill. Template patterns and dramatic side lighting add to the entire production.
Crickett Pettigrew's costume design adds a wonderful element to the show. She dresses Melba perfectly in a simple dress of the period. Another dress draped on a form upstage being used as a metaphor and a costume is ingenious. It is an integral part of the presentation of this story and works very well.
Regina Washington's portrayal of Melba Pattillo is stunning. Ms. Washington commands the stage with such intent and compassion, you are hanging n her every word and movement. This is a difficult story of pain, love, determination and sometimes defeat, yet Ms. Washington never falters or leads the story astray. She is an amazing talent and is definitely the right person for this regional premiere. She is well deserving of the audience's standing ovation she received. Brava Ms. Washington!
The African American Repertory Theater's Warriors Don't Cry is a definite must-see. This part of our history may be one we don't wish to remember, yet is one we should never forget.
African American Repertory Theater
The Corner Theatre
211 E. Pleasant Run, DeSoto, TX 75115
Final week - through June 10th.
Friday and Saturday evening at 7:30 pm
Saturday and Sunday matinee at 2:30 pm
Tickets range from $15.00 to $20.00.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.aareptheater.com or call the box office at 972-572-0998