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Review: Blood Done Sign My Name, Playmakers Repertory Company

A timely one-man show about a piece of North Carolina history

Review: Blood Done Sign My Name, Playmakers Repertory Company

"Blood Done Sign My Name" is an unfortunately timely show that recounts a racially-motivated act of violence committed in Oxford, North Carolina in 1970. The adaptation of Tim Tyson's book of the same name is written and performed by Mike Wiley. It's an intense show, delving not only into the incident, but also looking at the civil rights actions that unfolded afterwards and the way that these events shaped Tyson's life.

"Blood Done Sign My Name" looks back on the murder of Henry "Dickie" Marrow which occurred in Tyson's hometown. White men shot and killed Marrow after he supposedly used crude language towards one of their wives and an all-white jury acquitted them. The play recreates Tyson gathering testimony from many of those involved years later and the experiences that they share with him.

Directed by Jai Bradford, the show was filmed at the Clayton Center. In addition to writing and performing it, Wiley also served as a producer. It first premiered in 2008 at Duke University, but remains equally relevant today. It is performed with a minimal set and a screen that shows projections of real photographs related to the events being told.

Wiley portrays all of the characters, piecing together stories from a wide variety of people but always returning to the character of Tyson himself. It can be a bit hard to keep track of all of the figures, but it doesn't detract from the audience's ability to understand the general story. It's hard not to get swept up in Wiley's high-energy performance.

It's astounding that a show so simple, with minimal props and only one main actor, can be so moving. But the story that it tells is one that sadly has parallels to the events that occurred over this past summer and it grapples with the history that many North Carolinians would rather ignore. It's an important story to engage with and Wiley does a great job at bringing it to life.

Wiley is joined onstage by Gospel singer and scholar Mary D. Williams whose beautiful vocals enhance the show. With songs like "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Soon I Will Be Done," she adds even more feeling to an already emotional narrative. The sound design is well done between the music and sound effects for things like a game of pool.

The recording has a handful of special video effects, but for the most part, it does its best to recreate the experience of seeing the show live. It's easy to imagine how powerful it would be to be in the audience as Wiley directly addresses them at times. As with most filmed theatre, it does feel like something is lost in not getting to experience it communally. But in these times, to experience theatre in any form feels like a blessing and especially when it's telling a story as important as this one.

"Blood Done Sign My Name" not only highlights a piece of North Carolina history often swept under the rug, it also is a fascinating story of one man's journey to understanding and coming to terms with his own community. Wiley's work, both as an actor and a writer, is impressive and it's fantastic that more people are getting to experience this very impactful piece.

"Blood Done Sign My Name" runs at Playmakers Repertory Company until February 7.

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