Review: HANDS UP at The Alliance

The Alliance will stream the video capture of its production of HANDS UP from Oct. 22 – Nov. 14., 2021

By: Oct. 31, 2021
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Review: HANDS UP at The Alliance

The Alliance Theater's New Black Fest's HANDS UP: SEVEN PLAYWRIGHTS, SEVEN TESTAMENTS was originally commissioned by the New Black Fest in 2015 in response to the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager. The play features individual monologues written by seven Black playwrights and expresses them through the creative compositions from an ensemble cast. HANDS UP is co-directed by Spelman Professor Keith Arthur Bolden and Spelman Alumna and former Alliance Spelman Fellow Alexis Woodard. Woodard and Bolden worked on productions of HANDS UP previously as student and professor at Spelman College and beyond.

HANDS UP is described as having depicted "the condition of Black America and illuminates the perspective of Black people of varying genders, sexual orientation, skin tones, and socioeconomic backgrounds to create a holistic compilation of realistic Black American experiences." Each of the works aims a spotlight on familiar and disturbing situations for Black Americans and focuses on the details of what it feels like to be in the center of these difficult situations. The playwrights include Nathan Yungerberg, Idris Goodwin, Eric Holmes, and others.

The cast members of the Alliance's production are Brandon Burditt, Marlon Andrew Burnley, London Carlisle, Sean M. Dale, Charence Higgins, Marcus Hopkins-Turner, Jessenia Ingram, Kala Ross, and Josh Turner. With synchronized fervor, movement, and percussion, each of these actors build their stories with exemplary skill. They swiftly transition between supporting roles and protagonists with such clarity they shepherd the trajectory of the entire show down to the last testimonial. The impact is enlightening. These performers are who to call when you want your words heard.

In addition to the co-directors, the creative team includes Set Designers Isabel A. Curley-Clay and Moriah Curley-Clay, Costume Designer Pamela Rodriguez Montero, Lighting Designer Ben Rawson, Associate Projection Designer Ryan Bradburn, Sound Designers Chris Lane and Lorenzo Moore, Projection Designer Milton Cordero, and Movement Consultant Morgan Hawkins. The design elements of the show are another character unto the story itself. There are platforms, big and small-varying levels, rostrums, all enhanced by the projections on the shapes behind them. The costume changes, including a ceremonial changing of footwear, allows every actor a moment to actually "walk in anothers' shoes." The performers are at ease in creating the HANDS UP world with the tools of their surrounding environment. This includes enormous King Kong sized hands protruding up from the floor, reaching for the sky.

The last piece of the show suffocates the shouts from the plays before it. The actor wears a black jumpsuit with the names of victims emblazoned in white, and the list of facts, rather than the reenactment style of the rest of the show, pulls on our guts with a new harshness. It's direct address writing becomes a tool, a laser sharp summary aimed at the willing listener. This all becomes extraordinarily painful when one expands their view and realizes there's more names in the periphery, continuing forever, projected not just on the set, but somehow beyond the walls. Everyone is surrounded by the victims of brutal injustice.

This powerful ending is punctuated with a gentle invitation and request for everyone in the audience to put their "hands up." All are quick to comply, eager to keep their hands raised until the last line of the play. With the house and stage lights up, the room becomes a visual town hall of citizens under arrest. The compliance is disturbing as much as sensationalizes. The message, a sensorial understanding, tells what it feels like to have your "hands up" for an excruciating five minutes. The point hits home when you imagine the necessity of tremendous endurance it would take to keep your hands up so a gun won't go off in your face.

One is reminded of other ironic experiences of privilege, like riding mechanical bulls or paying to pick apples. Karaoke doesn't make us rock stars, but we get a taste of what it must feel like to be one when we sing at a microphone in front of a sycophantic crowd. HANDS UP reminds us that playing cops and robbers isn't a game. For Black Americans, it's still rigged.

Maybe someday, somehow, some body will leave the theater with tingling fingers and WAKE up from the somatic event they've newly experienced. Here's hoping HANDS UP takes to many stages in the coming years and inspires more storytelling in the name of justice.

In addition to the in-person performances of HANDS UP on the Hertz Stage, the Alliance will stream the video capture of its production of HANDS UP from Oct. 22 - Nov. 14., 2021. Info on the stream can be found at alliancetheatre.org/form/hands-up-stream.



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