By Isabella Fraser
As the audience enters, American radio ads are playing. An old school boom box and six white chairs are the only adornments on stage. When the first actor steps on stage with a strong dance routine and then addresses the audience with a moving speech which leads into the body of the play, expectation rises with the awareness that this is likely to be something special… and it is.
In this cast of six actors there are no weak links: every actor is given a moment to shine and shine they do. Stori Ayers as Raylynn has the audience in the palm of her hands as she plans to break rules and be someone; Christian Thompson as her brother De’Andre draws us in with his dance routines which speak when he cannot and breaks hearts as it becomes clear where his silence comes from; Brandon Carter as Justin embodies the complexity of the struggle between being true to yourself and acknowledging your heritage; Kenzie Ross as Asha skilfully personifies the confusion of belonging to two very different backgrounds; Allison Scarlet Jaye as fiery activist student journalist Toria inspires hope, and Tyler Reilly as Colin tugs at the heart strings as he makes difficult choices.
This Penn State University commissioned drama is a powerful collaborative piece. Director Steve Broadnax makes impressive use of the minimalistic set to change pace, scene and mood. That he makes it seem easy to convey so many elements using only what is effectively a bare set, and his six-strong cast, is a real skill.
The title of the drama is from a line in the song ‘Strange Fruit’, a well-known protest song about racism. Playwright Dominique Morisseau has written an exquisite play which addresses prejudice; to be specific, social prejudice. It was originally based on a true story of racial injustice but grew into addressing a wider remit. It is not however a piece that preaches at the audience. Instead, what Morisseau, Broadnax, choreographer Kikora Franklin, soundscape designer Liz Sokolak and the cast – who were all collaborators in devising and developing this piece – have managed to achieve is that rare beast: a piece which shows you the complicated and myriad reasons people have for prejudice or injustice – including ‘because that is the way it has always been’ – and allows you to make an informed decision for yourself. It shows how we can all have prejudices of different kinds even when we acknowledge this should not exist: it makes you want to be better.
See this while you can.
Blood at the Root runs until 25 August (no shows 11 & 12 August) in Studio 2, at Assembly George Square at 12.25pm. Running time is 1 hour 15 mins.