The past is our present and future in 'The Ridiculous Darkness' at Sideshow Theatre Company
Updated: Dec 27, 2019
Walter Scott, say his name. Jerame Reid, say his name. Phillip White, say his name. Eric Garner, say his name. Trayvon Martin, say his name. Sean Bell, say his name. Freddie Gray, say his name. Aiyana Jones, say her name. Sandra Bland, say her name. Kimani Gray, say his name. John Crawford, say his name. Michael Brown, say his name. Miriam Carey, say her name. Sharonda Singleton, say her name. Emmett Till, say his name. Tommy Yancy, say his name. Jordan Baker, say his name. Amadou Diallo, say his name.
Say all of their names.
This is an excerpt of a musical battle cry,"Hell You Talmbout", by Janelle Monáe featuring St. Beauty, Roman GianArthur, and Jidenna. The song lists names of black men and women who experienced police brutality. Talmbout combines the words "talking" and "about", with the overall title of the song translating to, "What the hell are you talking about?" Monáe once referred to this song as a vessel, an emulation of the anger, pain, and search to grieve with these losses that feels like a cycle, never ending.
This song is played in full in a pivotal moment of Sideshow Theatre Company's The Ridiculous Darkness. In a stunning burst of choreography by Tuesdai B. Perry, an ensemble made up of female presenting, black actors fledge full force swooping and swinging in rhythm to find clarity through movement where words cannot. There's a commitment to presenting a united front against oppression, violence, and the horrors that occupy this world. Each gets a chance to lead the group and the others follow willingly and confidently. Although it's only a moment in the play, it represents a movement that reverberates beyond the stage.
In a similar intention with Theatre Y's production of Self-Accusation, Sideshow takes a German playwright's text and revitalizes it in a way where its powerful resonance is apparent from its first image. Wolfram Lotz's The Ridiculous Darkness originated as a radio play that was then translated by Daniel Brunet and these roots offer means for incredible storytelling. The text is so rich, akin to the loosening and planting of soil as the story shifts between several narrators and backstories.
With the set-up of a prologue in retrospect, the show begins with the introduction of Damian (Meagan Dilworth) pleading before a court to be acquitted of his crimes. Dilworth paints a sincere, sympathizing portrait through a monologue that sets the tone of this verbose, lyrical text with moments of humor sparked from nerves. Damian expresses their position of living in a time of ignorance: "Not savage nor criminal", "American, but not free". He's positioned enough at a distance of feeling stuck in a time of piracy and wandering ye old seas, while mentions of locations like Oakland and fro-yo shops, and their image in a bright, orange jumpsuit cannot help but make us feel unsettled in their modern juxtaposition.
The majority of the story surrounds Sergeant Oliver Pellner (RjW Mays) and their top-secret mission with pilot/comrade, Stefan (Brittani Yawn). This shift glides the show into deeper waters of comedic territory. Mays' wry delivery and no nonsense demeanor is exemplary and Yawn's innocence and wavering optimism offers itself as a wonderful folly. The duo encounter many vibrant personalities including a proud, Southern commander (Lisa Troi Thomas) whose electrifying presence comes from digging into their disgusting habits and a peddler named Stewart (Jasmine Traylor) who finesses between empathy and imperfection. Without revealing their identities, the magnitude of performances cannot be ignored of Nichole Green and Kenya Ann Hall. Green and Hall deliver incredible performances of emotional complexity and honesty that demand and sustain our attention.
The Ridiculous Darkness delves into subjects we know like colonialism, racism, and oppression, but through a combination of mediums that isn't typically demonstrated. Sideshow artistic associate Ian Damont Martin directs an array of movement, music, and projections that build in intensity and sorrow. The use of contemporary music and sounds by Michael Huey encapsulate a perfect scoring to navigate these troubling tides. The ensemble offers palpable performances with the only desire being to see them together onstage longer. To experience this feeding and supporting of charged energies makes for a hopeful exchange, and that light can be found in one another when darkness consumes all around us.