Our Unchanging Times in “An American Saga Revival – Gunshot Medley: Part 1”

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Review by: Wilfred M. Phillips Jr.  

An otherworldly feel becomes apparent from the very beginning in this new production at Rogue Machine Theatre in Venice, Ca. In an old graveyard, from the afterlife, the characters of Betty, Alvis, George, and the High Priestess come to life. Live musicians perform blue grass music and African rhythms while silhouetted behind backlit scrims that blend well with the entire staging. There is a feeling of being somewhere in the Deep South.

Dionna Michelle Daniel, a young and powerful new voice in American theatre, has created a lyrical and mystical play about the struggle against systemic racism in this country. A musical and ethereal journey, the story effectively marks the destruction of too many lives from the antebellum south through the present day.

Derek Jackson and Mildred Langford – Photo by: Cristian Kreckler

Sha’Leah Nikole Stubblefield (High Priestess of Souls) is always present, like the wind that rekindles forgotten tragedies, or a gentle breeze that brings comfort. Her beautiful and soulful voice evokes memories and history. The sound of Gospel Hymns and her gorgeous red gown, for me, brought sentimental memories of my youthful days in church.

On a porch of a rickety building, Betty (Mildred Marie Langford), appears in pre-civil war slave attire. As the sound of gunshots are heard, she seems to be absorbing the pain, falling to her hands and knees constantly scrubbing and trying desperately to wipe away the blood stains, to “wipe it clean.” Are they the stains from our past and our present? “A few hours, a month, a year. It’s all the same here,” says Betty. She performed her role extraordinarily well. I felt her compassionate love and anger, and sympathized with her mournful tears.

Donathan Walters, Mildred Langford, Sha’Leah Nikole Stubblefield – Photo by: Cristian Kreckler

It is a moving experience that will have you traveling from the past into the present. Donathan Walters (George), in what is reminiscent of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, encourages the audience to wake up and fight for justice for all people. He visits the other side (life and death) and gives the audience a vivid description on what it is like there.

Derek Jackson (Alvis) provides an energetic flair with his talent, dancing and singing throughout.

The excellent production values, sound effects of wind, thunder and gunshots, will have you squirming in your seat. The costumes vividly indicated the life and times of the antebellum era that was visited.

Sha’Leah Nikole Stubblefield, Derek Jackson, Mildred Langford – Photo by: Cristian Kreckler

As time moves forward to an era that the audience is more familiar with, Betty returns to scrubbing the wooden planks. While naming youths who have fallen by the hands of various police departments, the alarmingly long list seemed to go on forever, reminding us all, “everybody is somebody’s child.”

The chilling ending says a lot about the conditions of the poor, Black, and Brown people across America. Actually not much has really changed since slavery.

The entire cast and crew is to be commended for a job well done. Playwright, Dionna Michelle Daniel, has a winner. Can’t wait for An American Saga Revival of Gunshot Medley: Part 2

An American Saga Revival of Gunshot Medley: Part I performs in July on Friday 12th and 26th at 8pm; Saturday 6th, 13th and 20th at 5pm and Saturday 27th at 8pm; Sunday 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th at 7pm. In August on Friday 2nd and 9th at 8pm; Saturday 3rd and 10th at 8pm; Sunday 4th and 11th at 3pm.

The Electric Lodge is located at 1416 Electric Ave, Venice, CA 90291. 

Tickets: $25 – $40.

Reservations: 855-585-5185 or at www.roguemachinetheatre.com