BWW Review: TWENTYEIGHT a Fascinating Look at Dystopian Racist Space
TWENTYEIGHT, a 2014 play by Tyler English-Beckwith, is a look at eight laborers who are trying to finish the shuttle that will carry them to the Liberian Space Station. This Space Station (also known as the L.S.S.) is a refuge for people of color. It seems that in this very dystopian future, things (for people of color) are even more violent and oppressive than things are now. This, as an audience member, isn't very comforting. Indeed, this is a short oppressive theatrical experience you aren't likely to forget easily. The world we know is long gone. A rubble of ruins. People of color have been crammed into settlements, where they work on projects just like this shuttle. What keeps them at work are the faceless Enforcers and a distant dream of liberation. There is the pull and allure of that promised place where what is wrong magically becomes a place of blessings, joys and riches. Isn't that, after all, the promise of all regions? Your heaven in amongst the various heavens.
As presented by The Gale Theatre Company, we are introduced to one of the six person crews who are meeting this prospect of heaven with all of the skepticism and blind hope you might expect. The play takes its title from a set of 2012 statistics from the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement that states a black person is killed by someone employed by or protected by the U.S. government every 28 hours. Texas had 29 extrajudicial killings. The play is greatly inspired by the Afro-futurism genre.
These six actors (Jeremy Rashad Brown, Delante Keys, Mae Rose Hill, Taji Senior, Kenah Benefield and Ojtavea Williams) work hard from the very start. At the beginning, two men and two women, back to back, perform some sort of intense work as a collective; pushing, pulling, shoving, reaching. When something goes wrong, their movements change into a frenetic activity until they have done enough to please the Enforcers. Their actions in this segment are disturbing: a sort o manic stop, drop and roll, enhanced by lighting and sound that is ear piercing. The movements are clearly derived from an encounter where the suspects have been pulled over on the road, hands behind the head, then handcuffed behind the back and left to roll, disabled, in the road. They have been forced to perform an act of total submission that seemingly has nothing in relationship to the actions they were performing. What did they do wrong? Did they do anything wrong? Is this just another part of breaking the will and ensuring compliance?
I had some problems just staying with what was going on because with so many things left unexplained, as an audience member I was having to connect a huge bag of dots just to make sense out of the nightmarish fever dream these characters were living through. It is a broad stroke of the Black Experience that I, as a white male had to work hard at. I'm not opposed to being told to work when I am experiencing something, but it is rather disconcerting to do so with no glimmer of hope. I thank the playwright here for such a solid workout.
Directors Tyler English-Beckwith & Matrex Kilgore have created a work of great tension and fear that was capably carried out by their six person cast. TWENTYEIGHT is set is Settlement Forty, Texas. It is an All Black township. Young 19 year old Isaiah Willis (Delante Keys) is working on the first spacecraft that is headed for the Liberian Space Station. The government has set up these All Black townships as "opportunities" for citizens to start over on the LSS. In reality, this situation is more of a forced deportation. During a protest, a 14 year-old protester is shot and killed by township Enforcers. Isaiah, whose brother Martin was murdered by a vigilante just a month before, is in complete opposition of the protest, and is hoping to leave all of his troubles behind when he gets on the LSS. When Isiah meets the older sister of the murdered teenager, Najee (Mae Rose Hill), they make love, but Najee has a further agenda and is hoping to convince Isaiah to stay and fight against the Enforcers, when Isaiah only longs to explore the unknown of outer space.
One question remains: Who will survive the next TWENTYEIGHT hours?
TWENTYEIGHT by Tyler English-Beckwith
TWENTYEIGHT was originally developed for the Cohen New Works Festival - UT 2014
Running Time: 75 Minutes, no intermission
TWENTYEIGHT produced by Gale Theatre Company at The Vortex (2307 Manor Road)
This production closed 8/19/2017