By Elizabeth Ann Foster
It is only a matter of time before this play premieres on Broadway.
This is the powerful reimagining of events leading up to what has come to be known as the Orangeburg Massacre and aftermath as experienced by a group of friends. Lacking publicity, initial AP reporting of the event was disappointing and inaccurate.
Playwright Holli Harms said “I was invited by the NAACP to a screening of the documentary on the massacre and at the end of the screening, a gentleman stood up in the back and said, I was there. I was shot and I never told anyone. Boom I knew that was my story.”
Shouting Down A Quiet Life, winner of the Texas Nonprofit Theatres, Inc. TNT Pops! New Play Project is set, events occurring in 1968, 2 years before the Kent State Massacre, with our main character Emmett Fludd (Angelo Reid) reliving events 3 decades later. The gentlemen who survived the shootings, he kept silent for a half-century. Harms brings historical events to life, making sense of a time-defying imagination. Harms describes the work best, “The play is like a piece of music that shifts chords, tempo and rhythm. Scenes flow from one to the other. When we relive the past, we are simply there not remembering what “there” was like. The characters are real, not memories or dreams. These are the southerners who could have all grown to be musicians or writers. They speak with the poetry of the South always on the tip of their tongue. They love their home even in the face of the awful. There is no other place for them.”
It begins with the decision of the family-run All Star Bowling Alley of excluding African Americans from their facilities so as not to upset their current whit only clientele. They own the only bowling alley in town and defy court orders with this decision. This leads to protests and violence. Harms tells the back story leading up to the fateful massacre through the lens of a group of friends. In eight seconds, 3 protesters are killed, 28 injured, and the lives of a group of friends altered in ways no one predicted or could even imagine.
This play is an important work, bringing to life events building up to and enveloping the massacre. It puts human faces on it, tugging at your heart. As Emmett states “I’ve been living with it my whole life, if I got angry about it, I’d be nothing but angry. Got more to living than being upset over ignorance.”
The audience must pay close attention to detail. Each character is dependently intertwined as the story unfolds. Each vignette is critical to this masterfully woven recreation of a moment in time. It’s a powerhouse performance by Natasha Wells as Bernice as she deals with the profound unsaid during her married life.
It is not clear when All Star Bowling Alley became desegregated. Listed in the South Carolina register of historical places, it closed in 2007 due to financial hardships. In the play Harms ruminates at how the South changes slowly. This fictional account of a historical little known or publicized event must be shared. Works like this can bring to the forefront hidden issues to improve and build a better future. We cannot learn if the lessons are buried. So powerful is this play, viewing it digitally does not diminish one’s sympathetic participation and suspended disbelief. This recorded version was at the Rover Dramawerks theater in Plano Texas as part of their 2020 season. We are looking forward to Rover theater sharing it again.
Shouting Down A Quiet Life – Play by Holli Harms, directed by Selmore Haines III
With – Angelo Reid (Emmett Fludd), Natasha Wells (Bernice Fludd), Marquese K. Johnson (Young Emmett), Mercedes Michelle (Mary Iron), Christian Taylor (Doyle Paige/Floyd Paige/ Reverend).
Stage manager Pharryn Hodge, choreographer Christian O’Neill Houston, set designer Harley Roche, lighting designer Adam Chamberlin, costume coordinator Dale Gooden Weaver, prop designer Kristin M. Burgess, audio engineer Jason Rice, light/soundboard operator Kennett Hall, backstage crew Kale Marable. Free archival streaming by Rover Dramawerks www.roverdramawerks.com or call 972-849-0358. Running time 1.45 hours.