At the Guthrie Theater thru November 6
By Colleen Steppa, Theater Reviewer (Photos by Dan Norman)
Set in Parchman Penitentiary in 1961, The Parchman Hour shows how arrested Freedom Riders took their imprisonment to new heights through song and dance in an improvised variety show. The players take us along on their journey south through the Freedom Rides, with stills and personages taken from interviews and footage of actual riders. Like any great comedy, The Parchman Hour was bred in the midst of pain, with levity designed to pass the boredom and brutality of harsh conditions in Mississippi’s infamous prison. This play shows the role of theater in the creation and imitation of reality as the characters invite us to their inner worlds through their impersonations of key players in their outer one.
Clever nods to real variety shows like Laugh In – with the holes in a prison bedsheet functioning as doors for characters to pop in for their one-liners – take the dire and truly awful subject matter to place of levity, and in doing so, remind us of the everydayness of these extraordinary people. Choreography is truly beautiful in a repeated scene with a little girl whose play is interrupted by bombs exploding nearby buses as gasping young men approach her for help and are met by club-wielding townsfolk, and the suggestion of violence is powerfully imaged without being overtly graphic.
Parchman is educational, emotional, and a musically and emotionally moving performance of humanity at its best and worst. Images of real Freedom Riders and members of the Civil Rights movement remind us that we are hearing the stories of real people, and the stories are intertwined with the powerfully read list of real names who are continuing victims of our ongoing civil rights battle with police brutality.
Opening night was an intense experience, audience visibly moved by the music and power of the players and the closing song roused the crowd from their seats in song and standing ovation, which was thoroughly deserved.
The Parchman Hour stars Sam Bardwell, Nathan Barlow, Cat Brindisi, Whitney Maris Brown, David Darrow, Kevin R. Free, Katherine Fried, Terry Hempleman, Jared Joseph, Zonya Love, Stephen Conrad Moore, and Kory LaQuess Pullham. This production is written by Mike Wiley, directed by Patricia McGregor, with original movement created and directed by Carl Flink.
The Parchman Hour plays thru November 6
McGuire Proscenium Stage at the Guthrie Theater
612.377.2224 or guthrietheater.org
818 S 2nd Street
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