Woke is a searingly powerful and important one-woman performance about racism in the United States. The show brings together the stories of two different black activists, separated by half a century: Assata Shakur, a legendary member of the Black Panthers who fled the U.S. in the 1970s, and Ambrosia, a fictional college student who became involved in the 2014 Ferguson protests. Most of the show focuses on Ambrosia, tracing her personal journey and her political awakening. When she arrives at college, Ambrosia is immediately branded an ‘oreo’ (black on the outside, but white on the inside), due to her naivety towards enduring influence of racial oppression. Soon, however, Ambrosia is caught up in the wave of protest that engulfed America after the black teenager Mike Brown was shot dead by police. At intervals the focus shifts, and the masterful Apphia Campbell switches from playing Ambrosia to playing Assata.
Political theatre at its best
The acting in this piece is superb, as is Campbell’s ability to keep the entire room on tenterhooks. Her portrayal of Ambrosia is compelling and credible, and this only makes the political message more powerful. At times, Campbell assumes the roles of minor characters with a deftness that makes this play so much more than a monologue.
The script is beautiful. The writing carefully balances urgent, high-speed conversation with more lyrical and descriptive narration, and in so doing it allows Campbell’s words to be both exciting and evocative.
The play’s only real limitation is the confusing way in which the stories of Assata and Ambrosia are interspersed; at times Campbell’s transition between characters is not as clear as it could be. By placing these two characters side-by-side, the show highlights the continuity between Assata’s struggle for black liberation in the 70s, and contemporary struggles against black oppression. The political point being made is important, but the stagecraft through which it is expressed could be made clearer.
Polemical, eloquent and deeply meaningful, Woke is political theatre at its best, where art and social commentary are seamlessly combined.
From the creator of the hit show Black Is the Color of My Voice, comes a new story about the 20th-century African-American experience. Set to original music and traditional gospel and blues; two women, 42 years apart, become involved in the struggle for civil rights. One, a notorious Black Panther; the other, a present day university student. Both challenge the American justice system, become criminalized through political activism and ultimately are faced with a choice to stay and fight or to flee. 'Stunning vocals' (Stage). www.madeinscotlandshowcase.com