Spine: Mosaic’s ‘The Gospel of Lovingkindness’ and a Call for a Better World

Mosaic Theatre Company’s second offering in its inaugural season is the emotionally rich The Gospel of Lovingkindness by Marcus Gardley.

Erica Chamblee (Mrs. Thomas), Deidra LaWan Starnes (Mary) and Manu H. Kumasi (Noel). Photo by Stan Baouh.

In it Gardley tackles the loss of innocence by the gun and with the gun, which has been taking place in African American communities across the United States since the late 1980s. With the Cold War ending, and all those nasty little Hot Wars no longer needing weapons, guns began pouring into urban areas in the US.

In it, Gardley speaks to our increasing sense of hopelessness as we face the fact that American society and culture glorifies the gun and a “dog eat dog” struggle for success.

In it, Gardley references the icon of America’s cult of celebrity, Michael Jordan. His shoe brand, “Air Jordan” sold for a whopping $260 a pair, were the object of desire over which the killing occurred.

In it, Gardley offers his own solutions, even if those solutions are cloaked in a somewhat magical evocation of the ancestors. Famed Ida B. Wells, founder of the National Organization for the Advancement of Colored People, continues her organizing, now on the “L” and now only those folk who call her name.

In Mosaic’s The Gospel of Lovingkindness audiences will first have their collective wind knocked out of them before the production tries its best to breath new life back into them.

Some will welcome the renewal, as the play’s message is heartfelt and sincere. Some will be uplifted by the call for more gun control, more jobs, more educational opportunities.

Manu H. Kimasi (Manny). Photo by Stan Baouh.
Manu H. Kimasi (Manny). Photo by Stan Baouh.

Others will no doubt remain skeptical to any of the above solutions. Gun control does not affect a gang’s access to handguns (the play’s gun of choice) and the issue in the play was not access to a job but access to a high paying job.

Some might even sit securely in the silly crowd of those who believe that more guns is the only solution to gun violence: the logic being if only the child killed by a gun had had a gun himself, then no murder would have happened (I don’t make this stuff up, the NRA and its academics do).

Some will also claim that Gardley has gone too easy on one or another party to the crime. For many, after all, the loss of innocence occurs at a far younger age than 16. Those who appreciate HBO’s The Wire, will understand this claim.

Nevertheless, all will agree that for those who have been touched personally by gun violence and its potential, The Gospel of Lovingkindness has a deep emotional resonance.

And it is to those folks that Mosaic’s Lovingkindness appeals, not just to come and witness an emotionally wrenching performance but, more importantly, to participate in a movement for social and cultural change.

Personally, I was teaching in the District during the 1980s. I still remember the day that a young African American student of mine bemoaned the fact that he could no longer get into a decent fist fight anymore because, sure enough, someone would show up later on with a handgun and shoot him.

During that same time period, my sister had the restaurant she was managing held up, during which a handgun was pointed at her head.

Several years ago, my daughter was held up at gunpoint in DC. I still imagine what might have happened if the young man had gotten angry that she didn’t have any money on her and shot her.

In the last 30 years, the abundance of the gun has reshaped America’s social and cultural landscape in ways we are just now beginning to appreciate fully.

Today, death by gun is an hourly occurrence.

The 33,000 plus gun deaths a year since 2012 (the largest percentage being suicides) hardly cause us to break a sweat.

If a Muslim isn’t involved in the mass shooting (more than one a day in 2015), the media quickly turns its coverage to the latest from Donald Trump.

Ironically perhaps, the problem of gun violence didn’t prick America’s social conscience until videos surfaced of police joining in the killing with a seemingly equal nonchalance.

Deidra LaWan Starnes (Mary) and Erica Chamblee (Miriam). Photo by Stan Baouh.
Deidra LaWan Starnes (Mary) and Erica Chamblee (Miriam). Photo by Stan Baouh.

So The Gospel of Lovingkindness might focus our attention on the killing of a young black man, but the pain and trauma that its gospel explores crosses all races, ethnicities, ages, genders, and sexes in American culture.

The epidemic that is gun violence has become endemic to America.

During those same years I have also watched the cult of celebrity and its resultant economic divide grow ever deeper.

We have all heard of the 300 to 1 ratio that CEOs make compared to their workers. The difference between celebrity pay and their non-celebrity cohort is just as extreme.

So young people dream of hitting that celebrity jackpot, never fully realizing that unlike the lottery you can’t even play to win.

Celebrity isn’t an earned status. It is corporate selected and made. And unfortunately, it has replaced the hero as our cultural centerpiece.

Many years ago, Joseph Campbell articulated the difference between the hero and the celebrity. Whereas the hero is known for his or her accomplishments in the service of community, the celebrity is a media image created in service of the individual and corporate profit.

Yet, our society glorifies not only the gun but the celebrity as well. It’s his or her image or his or her products and life-style that are yearned for, lusted after, magically contemplated.

In The Gospel of Lovingkindness the celebrity product, a tennis shoe, becomes the object of death and violence. To own that shoe, to possess that lifestyle, to dream that dream, that is the gospel of America.

As catharsis is simply not enough when a whole nation is killing itself by gun, accompanying Mosaic’s production of The Gospel of Lovingkindness are a series of community forums designed to address more fully the emotions stirred by the show.

Let us hope that real solutions, which currently are not part of any debate, soon emerge from the trauma of America’s violence.

All these community events are free and open to the public. For more information, click here.

Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.


The Gospel of Lovingkindness plays through January 3, 2016, at Mosaic Theater Company of DC performing in the Lab 2 space at Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street NE, in Washington, D.C. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 399-7993 ext. 2, or purchase them online.

John Stoltenberg reviews The Gospel of Lovingkindness on DCMetroTheaterArts.


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