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Gallaudet University: Eastman Studio Theatre
Remaining showtimes (tickets available here):
Wednesday, July 15 at 10:05 p.m. Sunday, July 19 at 2:15 p.m. Thursday, July 23 at 6 p.m. Saturday, July 25 at 10:30 p.m.
They say: During the summer of ‘66 an unknown protégé of Martin Luther King sparked a new demand during the last great march of the Civil Rights Movement. That demand was for “Power” and his name was Stokely Carmichael.
Andrew’s take: Meshaun Labrone’s new one-man show aims to elevate Carmichael, the Trinidad-born Civil Rights leader who marched with King and was a Black Power pioneer, to the same plane of historical awareness as King and Malcolm X. It’s a tall order, but this is certainly an opportune moment to revisit the Howard University graduate’s contributions to the Black Power philosophy, as a closing archival-photo montage reminds us. In-between vintage stills of black marchers and sharecroppers, we see images of injustices from this past tumultuous year, including Eric Garner and that Texas pool party.
But the true accomplishment of Labrone and director Jennifer Knight is how POWER! Stokely Carmichael immerses you in the world of social justice without turning into a church sermon. Standing on a bench over a stack of protest signs, megaphone in hand, Labrone-as-Stokely addresses us as though we are his kinfolk in the ’66 March Against Fear, arriving in the South to take up the cause. It’s a smart framing device, blurring the line between past and present. “Is this your first march?” he asks us early on, letting his guard down so we can see the “real” Stokely. Labrone’s stellar gifts as an actor are apparent immediately.
The show then gives us a tour inside Carmichael’s philosophy: why he doesn’t buy into his mentor King’s theories of nonviolence (“In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience”), why he’s angry with black folks who have ascended to the upper class, and why sharecropping is just slavery by another name. For this last one, Labrone adopts the persona of an old black worker in Mississippi, trapped in a position of abuse by his landlord, unable to do anything but grin on command. It’s a horrific, standout passage.
In retrospect, it seems odd we never get that much personal detail into Stokely’s own past. That’s because Labrone, who also wrote the play and previously gave the one-man-show treatment to Tupac Shakur, is more concerned with broad strokes than specificity. And that broadness includes some absurdity: While imagining himself as an obedient black man, Stokely becomes a dog, panting and yipping to commands from an unseen white lady (“Beg for freedom, Stokely! Good boy!”). Pulling off such a tonally jarring passage is a kind of victory in itself. We still may not know much about Carmichael the man, but POWER! ensures Carmichael the idea comes through loud and clear.
See it if: You’re one of those people who thought Selma was too hard on poor LBJ. Seriously, this’ll be good for you.
Skip it if: Reading the grim new Ta-Nehisi Coates book has temporarily drained you of your appetite for Struggle-related culture.
Photo courtesy of Meshaun Labrone