Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ronda and I see A LESSON BEFORE DYING and the fabulous Joyce Gittoes

I took this photo of Joyce on the north of the Viad Building where you enter to attend a play at the Playhouse in the Park. She looks happy as well she might be playing a good role in the Black Theater Company's production of "A Lesson Before Dying." This play adapted from the book by Romulus Linney was I thought directed well by Ed Smith and on the whole the acting was very good with the audience responding strongly to a pretty serious story lightened by some good humor and good character drawing by the author.
I read the book years ago which is about the impending death in the electric chair of a young black man who has been involved in a shooting. The evidence suggests that he was merely along with the men who did the killing but since they also ended up dead along with a white man, Jefferson (the young man) is sentenced to death after his inadequate white lawyer fails to do a very good job of defending him. But such death sentences have been all too common in our justice system especially when blacks have been involved in a white man's death. This play is set in the late forties when blacks did not have the civil rights even that they do today.
But now that Jefferson has been sentenced to die his godmother, Miss Emma, played by the ageless Joyce with her usual vitality, intelligence, and humor, wants to try to help him accept his fate and die like a man. Up to then he has been pretty mentally disturbed, acting out the hog being dragged day by day to slaughter, which is what his lawyer called him in court in a misguided attempt to get him off. He is still insisting he is no better than an animal and will have to be dragged to his death. So Miss Emma asks a black school teacher to come in and give him 'lessons before dying' as best he can so that hopefully Jefferson will die with more dignity. Rod Ambrose plays Preacher Reverend Ambrose in a delightful portrait of a preacher that is both humorous and right on, who thinks Jefferson should be taught out of the bible about his soul so he can better go home to God instead of wasting his precious time with a teacher who does not even believe in a hereafter (maybe up to now that is), but Miss Emma wants a teacher, too, so all his needs will be met. She is obviously afraid that the bombastic Reverend might not be able to get through to him. The teacher, played well by Anton Floyd, struggles to find something meaningful to teach a very upset young man about to go to his death for not a good reason. Jefferson, played by Aaron Petite, suggests his bitterness and disbelief very well and shows a gradual change in his character from being driven mad by the unfairness of it all to revving up his courage through talks with his earnest teacher to walk to his death upright instead of being hogtied and dragged. The cop who attends the execution comes to tell the teacher he was the bravest man in the room when the switch was pulled, which the teacher is so moved to hear. Well, there is really no good ending to this sad story.
By this time Ronda and I were both shedding tears, and Ronda said as she left, "That's why I don't believe in the death sentence. There is too much chance of an innocent man dying, one that did not deserve it."
I thought what a terrible dilemma for a young man to be in, so young, so alive and yet must somehow find courage to be executed. This play really made you think about what that would be like. I am sure Joyce was proud to be cast in a play that demanded much from the actors as well as from the audience. To the actors' credit the audience acted moved and responsive despite the time it took to build an authentic preparation for an execution. I think all those involved in this production can be very proud of themselves.

In the first photo I am standing next to one of the lifelike sculptures on the grounds. I thought one of them was real for a moment who looked like an office worker, right down to his clothes. Another sculptured man was posed washing the doors and one was dressed as a security officer on duty. The photographer was taking photos of a group of sculptured children.

Below my daughter Ronda is standing next to a large fountain. The apartments across the street are apartments for millionaires. The builders ran out of money so they have stopped working on them. Too bad, because they are very colorful and interesting looking.
Ronda and I had lunch on the second floor the coffee shop. I love the Viad Building and I love to go to the Playhouse in the Park. I have been going there quite a bit these last two years thanks to my dear generous friend Joyce Gittoes and David Hemphill, artistic director, who believes in passing out comps to be sure such a good play demanding a lot of dedication from the cast gets an audience! I sometimes feel guilty because I am not paying. I hope there are enough paying customers to keep this theater company progressing toward the new stage home they have been renovating for a long time.


Amrita said...

Hi Gerry, lovethe photos, you look good and Rhona too.

I have seen that movie and love it.Your review is very good

Connie said...

Love to see more of the water fountain and buildings in the background..... said...

I haven't read this play or book.
Powerful. I will look for it. Nice photo with sculpture.

Anonymous said...

What a great resource!


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