BWW Reviews: BLOOD DONE SIGN MY NAME is NYC-Caliber Theater in NC
Right now at Theatre Raleigh is a piece of theater that you won't want to miss. Blood Done Sign My Name, based on the book of the same name, tells the true story of the killing of "Dickie" Marrow in Oxford, North Carolina, in 1970. Told by researcher and interviewer Tim Tyson (through playwright and performer Mike Wiley), there's plenty of personal details of Tyson's life as well, as his father was a progressive Methodist minister who found himself in the middle of tense racial debates, including this one. Wiley tells the story in an almost documentary sort of format, playing narrator Tyson as an adult and as a child, identifying the speaker, and playing all the other townspeople Tyson interviewed for his book. The content and the performance bring up plenty of important questions about the state of race in America today in a way that feels experiential and authentic rather than didactic. Work of this caliber belongs on a New York stage.
There's an additional layer of complexity that is brought about simply by being in North Carolina and seeing this show - it's about some painful memories that this state has, and is at times a little too on-the-nose regarding how things still are. Being an adoptive North Carolinian, I realize that I've got a lot left to learn about the history of the state I've come to call home. This work shows how people can, at the same time, be proud North Carolinians, and be aware of its history and shortcomings. And, though it is a North Carolina story, the fight for Civil Rights is really everyone's story and everyone's history, when you get down to it. It was Martin Luther King, Jr., after all, who said "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
With a minimalist set of a barber chair, a barstool, and a church pew beneath a hanging church window, Wiley is able to create an entire world. The projection of several photographs, namely of characters being portrayed, is helpful and pleasantly un-showy. The show is a true one-man show (it's not a long monologue: Wiley plays many characters), and it works because all of the characters are funneled through the narration and perspective of Tyson. It is rare to find material that works best with a single-performer format, but this is it. Wiley really knows what he's doing. One of his best assets in this show is his ability to use the audience as an extra character - he gets audience members to chant, sing, and even hold hands as they become an integral part of the experience. Though I was being a dutiful reporter and taking notes, I couldn't help but join in on the singing of classic gospel songs and chanting that we want freedom and we want it now. Gospel vocalist Mary D. Williams adds yet another layer to the show with a capella hymns which punctuate and underscore the story in a way that reflects the show's uniquely Southern perspective.
Another treat for audiences is that each performance features a talkback with Wiley, which audiences will crave after seeing his phenomenal work on stage. Blood Done Sign My Name run through June 8. For tickets and more information, visit www.theatreraleigh.com.