BWW Review: King Productions Gives Voice to THE FACE OF EMMETT TILL
Young black men are nine times more likely to be killed than other Americans despite being only 2% of the general population. One in every 65 black male deaths is due to being shot by a police officer. Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Alton Sterling, Walter Scott. There is a tragic lineage these black men carried, just for the color of their skin. And they can all in some way be traced to the murder of Emmett Till - one of the most galvanizing and painful examples of racism in the 20th century. His death is at the roots of the Civil Rights Movement, and impassioned the likes of Rosa Parks, Muhammad Ali and countless others to stand for equality. As a piece of theater in the 21st century, it is with no amount of pleasure that I state that THE FACE OF EMMETT TILL is not just an important historical non-fiction play, it's painfully relevant.
EMMETT TILL was a 14 year old black boy who was brutally killed by Roy Bryant and his brother-in-law in 1955. The two wanted to "teach him a lesson" after hearing that Emmett whistled at Carolyn Bryant, Roy's wife, in their family store. The two men abducted Till from his great uncle's house, beat him nearly to death, gouged out one of his eyes, ordered him to remove his clothing, shot him in the head, tied him with barbed wire to an industrial sized 75 pound fan and threw him in the river. His mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, refused to let the tragic death of her son defeat her, inviting the press to her son's open casket funeral so that the scourge of such racism could indeed have a face - her son's. Till-Mobley went on to become an activist for children and a speaker for the NAACP.
THE FACE OF EMMETT TILL is the depiction of the events leading up to and after Emmett's death, and it's as much Mamie's story as it is Emmett's. Indeed, Till-Mobley is a co-writer of the script. We experience in THE FACE OF EMMETT TILL, the unfolding of events as they are remembered by his own mother. A product of King Productions and directed by Robert King Jr., THE FACE OF EMMETT TILL is not feel-good theatre - it's necessary theatre. Presented at the Mosaic Theatre in the farthest reaches of South Austin, this modest production carries great meaning and great expectations.
The production itself is modest but noteworthy. Presented in a black box on a utilitarian set and no fancy production tricks, the story of Emmett sadly unfolds through the anticipation of knowing this is a tragedy. There were equally beautiful performances and several intense scenes on the night I attended. Keturah Brown shows us a strong and vulnerable Mamie, a woman who, while doubting herself at times, is undeterred by the grief of her son's death and her conviction for justice. Jayden Wallace gives Emmett a lovely and gentle disposition. He does a great job for a freshman actor who is charged with playing one of the most important icons of the 20th century. As Moses Wright, Glen Towery has a strong presence. And credit must go to each of the white actors who committed to playing to the truth of the despicable racist characters they depicted.
On the night I attended the pacing was uneven and the set changes were lengthy. Some of the actors struggled with their lines. The blocking was often stagnant and several scenes didn't feel as dynamic as they should. Some of this can be blamed on the script, cut into several vignettes along the lines of a screenplay rather than a stage play that could provide a more natural progression of scenes. The second act unfolds more smoothly than the first, the pacing and intensity ratchet up, and the actors rise to the occasion. In particular, the courtroom scenes prove to be horrifying, infuriating, and heartbreaking. Every actor involved in these scenes delivered sharp and powerful performances.
This company is doing great work that should be seen, and it's a company that introduces talent at all levels to its audience. Therefore, none of my feedback should deter you from patronizing this theatre company. There's a nobility to the commitment to drag the darkest parts of our shadows into the light when performing this kind of work. Anyone willing to do this, no matter their skill level, deserves witness for bringing the painful truth of this story to light every night.
THE FACE OF EMMETT TILL
Produced by King Productions
Written by Mamie Till-Mobley and David Barr III
Directed by Robert King Jr.
11530 Manchaca Rd