Adelaide Fringe 2015
Blood at the Root dramatises events surrounding The Jena Six Trials – six black male high school students were charged—as adults—with the attempted murder of a white male student, in Louisianna in 2006. Morisseau’s tightly-scripted, sophisticated piece navigates prejudice, apathy, and social mores through a noose hold of existential angst.
A coming-of-age play which shows the relationships of six Jena High students who are directly affected by racial tensions and prejudice; and how they cope in response to events within and without of their individual control. Full of incredibly tight-knit ensemble scenes this is a fast-paced, high-octane work with music and lyricism to match.
Raylynn is the protagonist, running for student body president, and Stori Ayers steals the show with a considered yet graceful performance – no mean feat. “Hot as hell” on her heels is Christian Thompson’s visceral presentation of De’Andre punctuating the entire storyline. Colin’s (Brandon Carter) monologue—also a topical response to cultural stereotyping, in the wake of Ferguson and #icantbreathe—stood out for me. Carter’s delivery of the line “because I might lose my shit” was a moment of pure artistry. All cast-members’ individual performances do have moments of excellence, but some scenes with 2-3 actors are not as accomplished as the ensemble scenes or monologues.
Staging is brilliantly done with a spartan, highly-creative set-design consisting of six chairs. Empty chairs onstage can be used to signify oppression – they are skilfully utilised throughout the entire production. The use of black hoodies in costuming is a visual power-punch as well. Lighting design is good. The sound design was outstanding; I hope the soundtrack goes on sale.
This exploration of racial relations and bigotry translate well globally. It is worthy of considerable interest from an international and Australian audience. However, the speed of speech and denseness of accent lost this particular audience in the first quarter of the play.
Penn State University’s commission at Holden Street Theatre is great; don’t be apathetic – go see it.