Dionna Michelle Daniel
CalArts Festival Theater
From 05 August 2017 to 26 August 2017
Review by Keith Mckenna
Gunshot Medley begins with a young black woman walking a long circle on dirt strewn ground. It is a simple start to a play that gives us an unsettling vision of African American history.
The woman is Betty (Morgan Camper) and she cleans small sections of the ground. Every so often there is a gunshot and she falls as if hit by a bullet.
Red is the dominant colour of the show. It is prominent in the lighting of the stage. It is the colour of the cloth that Betty uses to clean the ground and sometimes holds as if it is a small child. It is there in the distinctive red dress of a singer that sits to the side of the stage and it is in the references to the blood of those brutally killed.
As Betty cleans, she is visited by the playful Alvis (Derek Jackson) who finds her things to clean. But when she touches them, her face becomes disturbed as if by a terrible memory and she asks him to bury them.
This is a play about what we do with a painful history and Betty fears that Alvis will recall how he died.
She is also visited by George (Darius R Booker), angry and convinced that even dead he can change things. He will at some point arrive as a Black Panther, and finally as a preacher of emancipation even though the gunshots and the deaths continue.
These are the ghostly victims of American cruelty and we will come to know how they first died.
The language shifts continuously between the conversational and the movingly poetic. It is underscored by the extraordinary sound design of Sam Sewell which gives a powerful emotional intensity to what we see. In particular, there is the slowed, haunting, otherworldly quality to the gentle singing of Dionna Michelle Daniel
The climax is the sound of marching black militants, the compassionate inspiring speech of an activist and Betty finally clearing the ground to find a huge stained Confederate flag covering the stage.
Among the final gunshots and the spoken names of murdered black people, we hear the words “a storm is coming.”
This is a remarkable production that combines a sharp poetic text with a challenging political vision, an imaginative sound design and powerful acting. It is one of the finest shows I have seen.