Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Playwright Pearl Cleage had an up-close view of Jackson's career: she was the speechwriter and director of communications for the man who became the first African American elected mayor of a one-time stronghold of the Confederacy. She and director Seema Sueko have distilled those years into speeches and conversations by nine diverse "Citizens," with the Witness (Billie Krishawn)–she won't use the term director–overseeing their efforts. The words are more captivating than the staging, except for the unending and tiresome use of "Our Town" to refer to Atlanta.
Scenic designer Milagros Ponce de León has turned the Ford's stage into a rehearsal space in a former Atlanta high school, now an arts center. The Citizens arrive and are given binders containing their lines. They are doing a first run-through, unaware of the (unseen) audience watching them.
The first issue is what does history actually mean, and who is qualified to speak for it? The Witness tells the Citizens to be, rather than represent, the people whose words they speak, that "the collective voice is the only true history." So, a young Black man asks, what about the indigenous populations who no longer live on their ancestral land? Does one Asian American woman represent the city's residents of Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian descent? Or an Indian American woman be considered the same as one from Pakistan or Afghanistan? Eventually the 10 performers get out of the weeds and start putting together the mosaic of life experiences.
Krishawn makes it look easy as she works to corral her diverse cast of Citizens, using low-tech design aids such as a blackboard and a slide projector to set the scenes and recount a great deal of history in a fairly brief run time. While all the performers have their moments, some stand out, specifically Tom Story as an Atlanta resident coming to terms with the fact that his ancestors owned slaves, and the interaction between a white hostess (Susan Rome) and her Black maid (Kim Bey) who have very different ideas of their relationship. Anger, exasperation, pride: the whole spectrum of emotions can be found on the Ford's stage.
Something Moving: A Meditation on Maynard runs through October 15, 2023, at Ford's Theatre, 511 Tenth St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-347-4833 or visit fords.org.
By Pearl Cleage
The Witness: Billie Krishawn