Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Penn State School of Theatre presents “Blood at the Root” – A play which explores the racial tension at a Louisiana High School. Inspired by a true story, the piece examines the complexities of racial divide, sexual identity, and personal relationships. Written and directed by Dominic Morissseau and Steve Broadnax respectively, the company presents this thought provoking piece of dramatic theatre united with powerful choreography by Aquila Kikora Franklin.
It’s an unbearably hot day in October, and Cedar High school senior Raylynn has woken up today feeling inspired – she feels that today she can make changes. She decides that she will begin by running in the upcoming elections for class president, a first for a black American female in her school. She tells her best friend Asha, a white girl, of her plan and they discuss the unlikelihood of her winning. As Raylynn ponders change, she notices that there is a particular area under a tree where only white students sit and innocently wonders why. She decides that today she will also sit there and, inspired by her, two other black students also sit there. The following day there are consequences for these actions as three nooses hang from the tree. Outraged, some of the black students hold a protest and the police are called. The nooses, the protest and the police presence inevitably cause tension to rise amongst both the black and white student body. Colin is a new white student who arrives in the middle of the semester. He joins the school football team where Raylynn’s brother, De’Andre is also a member. Colin and De’Andre clash in the school canteen, their angry words develop into a brawl of 6 black youths beating up one white guy. The 6 blacks are charged with attempted murder and indefinitely detained. Juxtaposed with this storyline is the backroom politics being played out at the school newspaper. Justin, the cautious and politically correct editor, doesn’t fit the stereotype of the young black male. He clashes daily with Toria , a passionate, bright and edgy geeky white female who wants to write stories that make a difference. They are in a position to report the story that everyone is talking about in hushed whispers and Toria is desperate to write her viewpoint. But Justin is reluctant to raise his head above the parapet and, as the story escalates within the school, so does the tension between them. This punchy piece begins with a display of frenetic dance performed by Christian Thomspon, (DeAndre). He’s an energetic mass of pulsing body pop that compliments the hiphop beats accompanying him. The cast appear together in subtle choreographed scene changes, at points moving rhythmically as one in silhouette, before melting into the next scene. There’s no room for error here, and some of changes are but a heartbeat. At times they add percussive rap, cleverly mixed with a tannoy announcement and contorting, they cluster into a tree. The script is rapid, and at the moments when passions are raised – fired out like bullets. The play is multi-layered but the clarity of the layers is there. Each character has their own story to tell and all are on a journey to find their true identity. The characters are all high school seniors, who show the idealism of youth, they begin with the irreverent chat of that teenage group but as the story unfolds secrets are uncovered and prejudices challenged, and there’s also a glimpse of who they might become as adults. Within that debate appear the topics of white teenagers who adopt black cultural stereotypes yet have the option to drop it, whether racism and homophobia are equal in their gravity, and my personal favourite – when to and who can use the “N” word. This is a really strong piece of theatre which I could have gone on watching. It’s got a good all round cast, strong storylines with profound elements, and moments of light-heartedness. As for the movement and dance, that was is a delight in itself.