Reviewed by Amalisha HuEck
The first thing, after entering the theatre, one stares at the magnificent, giant, precisely created tree (designed by Joel David) with roots, branches, and leaves, bathed in a perfect spectrum of colors and wonders, 'How was that done?' Spectacular job indeed!
Blood at the Root
takes place at a Louisiana high school, where students still live by the limiting social structure of existence, where the different rules apply for being black verses being white and the tradition carries the rule that only a white kid is allowed to take a comfort under the miraculous tree. Until one really sweltering summer day when a Black kid Raylyn (Nychelle Hawk) bravely takes a seat under the tree and breaks the conventional habit of the tree belonging to white kids only.
The story is based on 'the Jena Six', after six Black teenagers in Jena, Louisiana, were charged with attempted murder in the beating of a white schoolmate. Dominique Morisseau wrote
Blood at the Root
in 2013, many years after the incident happen, because the assault in Jena was significantly powerful and provoked nationwide attention. The judgment of suspension to only three days for the incident led to a widespread protest. In due course, the teens all pleaded 'no contest' and the jail charges were reduced because the ACLU was monitoring the whole situation.
The play wonderfully captures the high school life, and the true friendships that developed between Black and white kids. That is the time when students are on a quest to change old-fashioned rules and give themselves new, more equal lives. Raylyn even ran for the class president, which was unheard of in the history of Luisiana. The dark and challenging reality of these times was being replaced by light, and freedom was slowly creeping in. Morisseau plucked her title from the lyrics for "Strange Fruit," the song by Abel Meeropol made hauntingly famous by Billie Holiday: "Southern trees bear a strange fruit / Blood on the leaves and blood at the root.
Under the skillful direction by Michael A. Shepperd, an amazing cast with youngling commitment and a high energy bounce so perfectly off each other and never misses a beat. What an amazing ensemble work. Bravol
The Cast members are Nychelle Hawk, Nicholas Heard, Jeremy Reiter Il, Caroline Rose, Grace Sons and Azeem Vacchio. The Student Chorus members are Mallik Balley, Deandra Bernardo, Emma Bruno, Jack Sharpe and Amber Tiara.
Produced for OFTC btu Amanda Weier, the Choreography is done by Yusuf Nadir, Scenic Design by Joel Daavid, Costume Design by Mylette Nota, Lighting Design by Gavan Wyrick, Sound Design by Mark Antonio Pritchett.
Open Fist Theatre Company is located at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater.
The performances are Fri-Sat., 8 pm, Sun, 3 pm, Sept. 17, Oct.1 & Oct. 15, Sun., 7 pm, Sept. 10 & 24, Oct. 8 & 22; Mon., 7 pm, Oct. 9, dark Sat., Oct. 7.: through Oct. 22.
The General admission tickets are $30, Seniors/Veterans $25 and under 30 are $20. The tickets can be purchased at 323-882-6912