BWW Review: WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED - THE STUDENT SIT-INS OF 1960 at The Coterie Theatre, Kansas City MO
In 1960 four freshmen from A&T College in North Carolina take a seat at a whites-only lunch counter and launch an equality movement for African Americans. By taking a seat, in a nonviolent demonstration, they inspired first a community and then a nation to stand together for Civil Rights. Presented as the Coterie Theatre's 39th season opener, Simpson's docu-drama style play (directed by Jeff Church) examines the lives of ordinary citizens from multiple perspectives to uncover the stories at the center of the protest and fight for justice. Inspired by photograph from the time of the historical event, Simpson delves into the people in the background and on the periphery to include the thoughts of those in the community who were watching history as it unfolded.
Darrington Clark (as The Young Man) gives a commanding performance as an exasperated young man who is provoked by disrespect to take issue with his local Woolworth store's policy of a "whites-only" lunch counter. After defiantly sitting at the counter one afternoon, much to the consternation of both white and black employees, he returns to school and tells his story to several classmates who agree to join him in organizing a protest. As they stage their sit-in at the Woolworth counter the news is broadcast by the local news media. Young man, it should be noted, also delivers much of the narrative to the story including some audience interaction that was a big job for a young actor who was definitely up to the task.
As the protest progresses Clark is joined by Antonia Washington (as Yvonne), Khrystal L. Coppage (as Dierdre), Evan J Lovelace (Billy/Lawrence) and Robert E. Coppage III (as Eugene Conrad) and the group adhere to strict rules of conduct, inspired by Gandhi and DR. Martin Luther King. This ensemble provided realistic characters with each developing audience interest and sympathy for their cause.
Parallel story lines between sons Eugene Conrad (Robert E. Coppage III) and Mike Perkins (Daniel Eugene Parman) and their fathers' Nate Conrad (Granvile T O'Neal) and Phil Perkins (Matthew Williamson) compare and contrast the struggles of each of the parents in dealing with their protesting progeny. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences in the way each father spoke to his son and related their experience and concerns. This foursome provided an acting tour-de-force performance by bringing the story into their homes and showing the struggle for understanding, acceptance, and preservation.
Rounding out the cast are Alisa Lynn (as Hazel/Debbie/Jenny) Deanna Mazdra (as May/Mother/Elderly Woman), Tommy Waller (as Radio Broadcaster/Newspaper/Red), and Antonia Washington (additionally as Margaret/Newspaper). Each of these actors tackle multiple roles making them unique so that one is unaware until looking at the program that the same actor is portraying several people. In particular, these "characters" provide much of the comic relief and interject fresh elements into the story line that give the audience pause for consideration. Each one has a shining moment in the show without pulling focus from the movement of the storyline.
Roan Ricker (as Jerry Bigelow) tackles the role of the counter-protestor with just a hint of a sinister smile. As the slick-haired character everyone loves to hate, he charismatically draws the audience in, only to punch them in the face with his hate-filled rhetoric. He is the white supremacist (who could have recently been drawn from events in Charlottesville) who opposes any change to the social order. Bigelow is both pushy and cowardly and vacillates as quickly as the winds change.
As pressure from the community rises Woolworth is forced to reconsider their policy for a white only lunch counter. As the times change it becomes obvious that all will be changed in some way. The show does not attempt to answer the question of why some people are prone to prejudice leaving it as a question for the audience to consider on another day.The set design (by Rafael Toribo) is a contemporary take on the diner, which mutes the colors (which in the era would likely have been glaringly bright) to a monochromatic mood. Lighting (by Jarrett Bertoncin) eirily casts shadows in all the geometrical angles he uses in the background add to the conflict and tension of the story that revolve around the whirling seats of the diner.
Lighting (by Jarret Bertoncin) both highlights the actors and casts eerie shadows into angular set spaces leaving the audience questioning what lurks there. David Kiehl's sound design is also an effective background of what's going on with just the perfect balance that doesn't overwhelm the action. Costumes by Georgianna Londre Buchanan) provide access to the personality of the characters in this conservative era of 1960.
Why this is a must see show: From seamless production to well-honed acting, this is a story that relates to audiences from tweenagers to older adults with clear resonance. Telling such a story, of how the failure to embrace differences affects all of society, is a potent tale of humanity in both its ugly and more beautiful moments.
The show runs September 19-October 22, 2017 at the Coterie Theatre , Level one of Crown Center at 2450 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO
Tickets are available online: www.thecoterie.org and by phone at (816)474-6552
Photos by J. Robert Schraeder and courtesy of The Coterie Theatre.