Theatre review of The Road Theatre Company’s “Modern Minstrelsy.”
Written by Kermit Frazier. Directed by Gregg T. Daniel.
“Modern Minstrelsy” is part of The Road Theatre Company’s Twelfth Annual Summer Playwrights Festival (SPF12) https://roadtheatre.org.
“Modern Minstrelsy” is a retelling of an all too darkly common story. Racism as a normality in American society. It’s seen from both sides and navigated by two narrators, Nig and Jig, characters out of the past, one Black, one Irish, both American. Their own stories, their conjoined histories, bringing context to the unfolding drama at the center of the play.
A young Black man rushes home to his parent’s house closely followed by four young white men. They followed him home from a party, accusing him of sexually harassing a white woman. Even though the whole thing was a lie, the men seemed happy to accuse and happier still, at least at first, to put this particular Black man in his place.
What they didn’t count on was his father being home and his response to his only son being cornered and falsely accused and threatened by four white men itching for trouble. Years of racism, centuries etched into his DNA. Collective memory. Inherited trauma on top of his own experience of bigotry. All this layer upon layer, year upon year, age upon age. How can a Black man not be on the edge of breaking every minute?
Despite the bleakness of the subject, “Modern Minstrelsy” is a beautifully formed play. Enlightening. Vivid. Without the heaviness one might expect.
Even though the subject is supremely heavy, of course. The skillful use of the narrators gives us unique sources of understanding. Every character in the play also having experienced their own individual bigotry and their own rationalisation of abuse. It reminds us of how resentment is made. Black and white, rich and poor, loved and unloved.
Play readings can be difficult, especially online play readings. But this is such an excellent play, so well formed, so cleverly written by Kermit Frazier, that in the hands of fine actors such as these, whose gorgeous performances seem to jump off the screen, it just works. Brilliantly. Director Gregg T. Daniel, who trusts the actors. Yet, guiding them remotely must be so difficult to do. But, clearly, it’s a success. I look forward to being able to sit once again in the darkness in The Road Theatre and watch a play, perhaps this play. Until then we have at least this wonderful forum for new work.
The Road Theatre Company is a gift to us all. They choose their work instinctively, guided by their sense of justice, of artfulness, and of the hope that theatre gives us for a world changed for the better by it.
This has been a tough time for us all. We need help. We need kind voices and support and the idea that humanity can save us all. Creating opportunities for artists to help us heal, understand ourselves and love each other all the better is something The Road has always excelled at.
And, so they do it once again this year, with 26 plays in 12 days from new playwrights, performed by The Road’s company of actors who are always absolutely superb.
You can find out all about the festival here: https://nohoartsdistrict.com/summer-playwrights-festival-spf12/
If you can, please donate, help them help us al!!