‘A Protest in Eight’ at Theater Alliance packs a social-justice punch

Eight dynamic short plays that go to the core of Black Lives Matter demands.

No doubt about it, in just fifteen minutes, protest theater can pack a powerful punch. Theater Alliance’s creatively ambitious A Protest in Eight, with its lineup of eight fierce young playwrights, goes right to the heart of the matter and to the core of Black Lives Matter demands in a series of eight dynamic short plays. Directed by Theater Alliance’s own artistic director, Raymond O. Caldwell, Protest in Eight delves deeply into some of the most pressing and painful social justice issues of our day — each in just fifteen minutes.

And without a doubt, it’s youthful energy that holds the promise of a better tomorrow. What came across most saliently after viewing the streamed package now available for all eight plays is that progress really rests upon the shoulders of the young people of today. They are the ones who have enough fire in the belly, the gumption, and the guts to “strategize, organize, and mobilize” and to “fight back in order to move forward” in keeping with Protest in Eight’s unrelenting plea for social change.

Olivia Dorsey and Deimoni Brewington in ‘The Obedient Mirage.’ Screenshot by DC Theater Arts.

Protest in Eight uses different theatrical styles combining the real with the surreal. But interestingly enough, the plays that dealt with social issues more from everyday realism than from a surrealistic figment of the imagination had greater impact. Consequently, several of the plays had the force of a maelstrom compared with the quiet storm of a few that used a comedic element to deal with a slew of serious social issues.

Take “The Obedient Mirage” written by Roney Lee Jones. A Black police officer has to confront a family that includes his millennial daughter, who calls him out big time for refusing to quit the police force after watching his White partner unfairly kill a Black man. Quitting a secure job that a Black man has had for years and that has helped him to raise and house his family is not as easy as it might seem. There are no easy answers — only his questionable belief that “there’s plenty that can be done” to change things. His family ain’t buying it. What will he do?

Another play that wielded a greater wallop was “What Happens There,” written by Savina Barini. It’s a taut psychoanalysis of complex questions related to prison reform and reducing prison populations. The current system seeks to punish the offender to root out anti-social behavior as opposed to rehabilitation. But should society try to rehabilitate a child rapist rather than lock him up and throw away the key for his heinous crime?

Imani Branch and Deimoni Brewington in ‘What Happens There.’ Screenshot by DC Theater Arts.

In “Either You Have It or You Don’t” by Kayla Parker, the problem of cash bail is realistically presented as five jailed characters try to make bail in a social system that sets bail in unequal, unfair ways. The problem of pre-trial detention and its disproportionate effect upon people of color and others whom society deems as disposable gets fair play in this fast-paced, powerful performance.

“Reap the Reparations” (a game show spoof) by Alric Davis, “Tiffany’s” (Glenda the Good Witch meets Here-Come-Da-Judge) written by Emmanuel Key, and “The Death of the Wonderkid” (a superhuman cartoon character marvel) by Naima Randolph are plays that creatively used elements of surrealism, cartooning, and comedy to discuss reparations, decriminalizing sex work, and dropping penal charges against protestors, respectively. They’re all cogent themes to promote social justice, but the uses of humor and the fantastical to discuss the devastating social fallout caused by society’s ignoring BIPOC needs for social resources were less impactful. Somehow, there seemed to be a disconnect because it’s just not a laughing matter, not even in the satirical sense.

“It’s a New Age Mammy” by Tehya Merritt  and “Criminalize Me” by Carmin Wong effectively toed the line between the real and the surreal, presenting a thought-provoking look at stop-and-frisk inequalities and the school-to-prison pipeline. Both conjured up strong feelings of how both fear and the lack of fear can result in physical violence upon Black bodies.

Viewing the plays in A Protest in Eight all in one watch party rather than individually is recommended. All eight of these stimulating performances lend themselves well to Protest in Eight’s stated intention of fueling conversation, sparking action, and promoting social justice.

Total Running Time: Two hours

Strategize, Organize, Mobilize: A Protest in Eight presented by Theater Alliance streams December 23, 27, and 30, 2020, at 2 pm ET and December 26 and 31 at 8 pm ET. Tickets are available for purchase online.

The Plays
The Obedient Mirage by Roney Jones
Reap the Reparations by Alric Davis
What Happens There by Savina Barini
Tiffany’s by Emmanuel Key
Either You Got It or You Don’t by Kayla Parker
It’s a New Age, Mammy! by Tehya Merritt
Death of the Wonderkid by Naima Randolph
Criminalize Me by Carmin Wong

Creative Team
Director: Raymond O. Caldwell
Director of Photography: Kelly Colburn
Production Designer: Jonathan Dahm Robertson
Lighting Designer: Dylan Uremovich
Sound Designer: Matthew Nielson
Costume Designer: Jeannette Christensen*
Props Designer: Felysia Havens
Master Electrician: Elliott Shugoll
Original Music: The Curious Music Company
Stage Manager/Assistant Director: Thomas Nagata
Line Producer: Aria Velz

The Ensemble
Imani Branch, Deimoni Brewington, Olivia Dorsey, Rukiya Fields, Kaisheem Fowler-Bryant, Da’Von T. Moody, Janelle Odom, Moses Princien

RELATED: Theater Alliance kicks off eight nights of protest plays



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