“Black lives matter!” Hold it there and let that well-known refrain ring in your head, along with the image it conjures up in your mind. What sort of play are you anticipating? I can almost guarantee it won't be
A story that began many years ago but that could not be more topical and relevant as we watch it today... a gem that sparkles and enlightens.
This remarkable work is the beautiful creation of Dionna Michelle Daniel, a recent graduate of CalArts, Los Angeles. She makes her international debut at this year's Fringe as writer, director and singer. Set in a haunted North Carolina graveyard this delicately-crafted work brings past and present together in a soulful tale of lives destroyed by the deep-seated racial tensions and conflicts that have marred her country's history from Antebellum America to the present day, where strife is still very much alive.
The action takes place on a moody set designed by Alex Grover: a raised square stage with the centre covered in wood chips that hide symbols of death and supremacy. A solitary post stands in the corner. The haunting atmosphere is established and sustained by a subtle lighting plot devised by Jesse Fryery that makes full use of the the effects that can be achieved from LED equipment and the excellent facilities of Venue 13. Accompanied by classic Appalachian folk music and gospel spirituals, Black-American experiences calmly and sensitively unfold through dialogue, poetry, music, songs and recordings that expose the historical expendability of black people and the lives lost to hatred, racism and brutality.
Costumes, by Chardonnay Tobar, blend with the set and establish the period in which the three actors exist. The fourth character is an exception. Resplendent in a vivid red dress at the side of the stage the ever-present High Priestess of Souls, an incarnate of the Yoruban goddess Oya, chants sweet airs that awaken the characters to their condition and calling. Betty, Alvis, and George, three historically documented slaves that died in North Carolina before the emancipation proclamation was signed, must respond and in so doing confront their fear. The characters are eloquently defined and created respectively by Morgan Camper, Derek Jackson and Darius Booker. Each performs with finesse: Morgan with an air of matriarchal wisdom; Derek with youthful energy and Darius with sombre foreboding. Meanwhile, musician Kris Rahamad and Sam Sewell inventively enhance the production.
The text is richly endowed with imagery, making extensive use of similes and metaphors that encourage reflection on the emerging situations. Scenes are balanced between the lively and the contemplative, interspersed with songs and music and divided by the repetition of a symbolic floor motif and gunshots. It is this organisation of material that gives the play its solid structure.
Gunshot Medley was born out of the Charleston church shootings and the debate surrounding the insensitive use of the Confederate flag. It pays tribute to those who persevered for a cause and endured the scars of oppression. It tells a story that began many years ago but that could not be more topical and relevant as we watch it today. It is a gem that sparkles and enlightens.