Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Joyce Gittoes wins Arizoni for her work in this Black Theater production, "A Lesson Before Dying"

Below I have posted my review of this play my daughter Ronda and I attended back in February 2010.

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 a man dying 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.

Joyce, I am happy to hear, has been justly rewarded for her fine work in theater over the years. I always love to see her perform!

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