When nine teenage African –American boys, ages 13 to 20, in 1931, hop in a train boxcar in Alabama, traveling North for freedom, adventure and employment, their lives are permanently and irrevocably changed. They are falsely accused of raping two white women, who lie to get out of being arrested themselves, and soon find they are convicted with no real evidence of a crime. These young men, known as The Scottsboro Boys, are the subject of a daringly dramatic musical with book by David Thompson, music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb. West Hartford’s Playhouse on Park will bravely tell their story of racial injustice until Sunday, August 4. This is powerful theater with teeth that bite the historical truth and should not be missed.
This travesty of civil rights abuse has been fashioned into a minstrel show orchestrated by the only white member of the cast Dennis Holland as The Interlocutor, aided by Mr. Bones, Ivory McKay, and Mr. Tambo, Torrey Linder, who portray a wide variety of characters. Protesting his innocence for decades is Troy Valjean Rucker as Haywood Patterson, who even when he can claim his freedom refuses to say anything but the truth, he did not do this crime. Standing along with him are the other eight accused, who face lynching or the electric chair: Justin Sturgis as Roy, Jerry Hamilton as Andy, Trishawn Paul as Eugene, Cedrick Ekra as Clarence, Alex Robertson as Willie, Jaylan Evans as Ozie, Grant Reynolds as Charles and Cedric Greene as Olen. The cast is uniformly powerful as they adjust to the continuing verdicts of guilty, even though there is no evidence and one of the accusers admits her story was a lie.
With passion and poignancy, the boys sing and dance their innocence as the minstrel show progresses, and rallies, letters and protests scream against the injustice of it all. Trial after trial produces the same verdict. Two legal precedents are set, that juries must be integrated and that accused have the right to proper counsel. The author Harper Lee even used this incident in her book “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Despite any progress in the civil rights movement, almost six decades later the Central Park Five, mostly African-American youth, were arrested without evidence and convicted of raping a white jogger. It took more than a decade for them to be exonerated and the real culprit convicted when he confessed.
Each of these boys suffered unimaginable fates because of the lies told against them. Their story is one you must acknowledge and understand, lest it happen today. Kudos to director Sean Harris for having the courage to tackle this unforgivable tale, with musical director Melanie Guerin and choreographer Darlene Zoller.
For tickets ($30-50), call Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford at 860-523-5900, ext. 10 or online at www.playhouseonpark.org. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 pm. Please stay for the talk back with the cast and a prominent member of the community after each show.
Come balance the truth and the lies, the lightness and the darkness, the frivolity and the fear, as this intense struggle plays out in front of your eyes. At the end, watch the silent lady, Renee J. Sutherland, give meaning and hope to the tragic ordeal.