Ferguson, USA - dense (in a good way) script, nicely detailed deeply felt acting/directing, solid work all around - 5 stars
I put Ferguson, USA in my Top 10 list because I had high hopes that it might be a Fringe show with not just something to say, but a compelling and theatrical way of saying it. Ferguson, USA delivers.
“Who. What. When. Where.”
My hat is off to playwright/producer Maxwell Collyard and his dramaturg Adam Levonian, who had the herculean task of taking the events surrounding the death of Michael Brown and distilling them into a Fringe length format of under an hour. I also have to say that director Nathan Eckstein and his skilled cast of four (Talief Bennett, Brid Henry, Ashe Jaafaru, and Andrew Wheeler) are to be commended for somehow representing multitudes with a group of people you can count with less than the fingers on one hand.
“We are taught to forget our rights, and focus on survival.”
Playwright Collyard has fictionalized things just barely so he can telescope the situation of the black community in Ferguson, Missouri down to a brother and sister (Bennett and Jaafaru, respectively). They have lived and somehow survived under the status quo of how things work in Ferguson on the two sides of the racial divide. But now both of them bear witness to the shooting of the unarmed Brown by a white police officer, and both of them struggle to find a way to respond.
“I’m not scared. I’m just not stupid.”
The brother, who was present when the shooting happened, joins the protesters in the streets. The sister, who only turned to witness events when she heard shots fired outside her home, works the social media angles and cautiously cooperates with authorities to try and tell them the real story of life on the ground in the city they call home.
“They can’t kill us all. They can’t imprison us all.”
Henry and Wheeler take on the parts of all other characters in the narrative - the white side of things in Ferguson and the country at large - witnesses, police, FBI, media. Some have the best of intentions. Some are all too ready to despair. Still others find themselves struggling to understand the way things are, and the reasons some of it might need to change.
“If we bring our stories to them, those will carry something the statistics can’t.”
This might make things sound like Ferguson, USA is a dry documentary affair. While it’s true that Ferguson, USA takes as its source material witness interviews, media coverage and the Department of Justice report on the events of August 2014 (has it really only been a year?), the honest emotions and conflict inherent in those documents can’t help but bubble up from underneath the words on the page.
“If they don’t kill me, my mama will.”
The script and the actors bring this situation out of recent memory and back to immediate life. The sense of hope, fear, anger, and confusion stirred up by these events (in many cases already there, just brought into the light by people finally paying attention), these visceral human responses to inequality and injustice get a full airing without descending into bombast or melodrama.
“Essentially, this place is a debtors’ prison.”
The musical Arrest Me over at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage this Fringe may be the more overtly emotional (and sometimes satirical) of these two productions inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. But Ferguson, USA holds just as much emotion. It’s often quieter, more contemplative, but no less fervent.
“I don’t know any black parents who don’t care about their kids.”
Its mission seems to be to keep drawing us back to the facts, making sure we see them, and take them in. Seeing the characters in Ferguson, USA try to navigate the turbulent currents around them, trying to address the issues without setting off the community like a powder keg, is compelling viewing. Ferguson, USA is unsettling in a way we need to continue to be unsettled right now.
“It’s not my job to make you see him as human.”
Just as we’ve only the seen the beginning of this new wave of social consciousness, I think (I sincerely hope) we’ve only seen the beginning of what groups like Random Walk Theatre Company are going to do to keep pushing theater to help us engage in yet another way in this movement.
5 stars - Very Highly Recommended