Second week of ‘The American Play’
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This November the UA Theatre Arts main stage production is “The America Play,” written by Suzan-Lori Parks and directed by Jimmie Woody. The next performances take place at 2 p.m. on Nov. 12 and at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 10-12 in Sandefur Theatre at Guzetta Hall.
On the surface, “The America Play” is about an African-American gravedigger, played by John Sturdivant, known as “The Lesser Man.” He has been told that he resembles Abraham Lincoln and so he creates his own version of “The Great Hole of History,” a history amusement park. The only attraction is his reenactment of Lincoln’s assassination at Ford’s Theatre where guests pay to be John Wilkes Booth and pretend to shoot the Lesser Man.
In the second act the Lesser Man’s wife Lucy, played by Chaunice Henking, and his son Brazil, played by Jessie Armstead, are excavating “The Great Hole,” which is an actual hole, to find her husband’s remains.
That’s about as linear as “The America Play” gets.
Parks’ play is a satirical commentary on revisionist history. The production is densely packed with abstract concepts presented by a multi-layered juxtaposition of visual and audio cues, and dialogue. Director Jimmie Woody explains that the parallel of the Lesser Man with Lincoln’s “Greater Man” sheds light on the message that “the contributions of African-Americans are as great as any other American in our country.”
Although Parks wrote the play in 1993, today’s climate surrounding the #blacklivesmatter movement lends irony to the Lesser Man’s struggle to also be great by having people shoot him over and over. This serves to further highlight one of the many themes of this play.
The character of Lucy hears voices of people from the past. Woody states that this is reminiscent of African culture where “our ancestors are still with us and they still talk to us and support us.” In that way we are linked to our present and our past.
While these and other concepts are intricately intertwined and complex, UA’s cast of “The America Play” has risen to the challenge. Woody, who is from Cleveland and received a master’s degree in acting from Columbia University, helped the cast unpack all the themes and navigate the symbolism of the play. He says that “they’ve just done such a wonderful job in interpreting [Park’s] wonderful play.”
The cast experienced a rare opportunity when they met Suzan-Lori Parks last Tuesday at Case Western Reserve University. Backstage, the cast was able to ask her questions and she was very supportive and enthusiastic. Parks became the first African-American female writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2002 with her play “Topdog/Underdog.”
Jimmie Woody made an effort to include other UA representatives in “The America Play.” UA student Dan Schiller plays percussion for the production. Choreography was provided by student Christine Howe. Set design was put together by one of UA’s graphic design studios, design x nine.
For more information on UA’s performance of “The America Play” and other events this season visit the event’s page on the School of Dance, Theatre, and Arts Administration website: uakron.edu/dtaa/performances.