“The Ballad of Emmett Till” captures the life of a young black man in the weeks before he was kidnapped and murdered for supposedly flirting with a white cashier at a Mississippi grocery store. He had just turned 14.
Penumbra Theatre‘s production of the show runs through March 2, and has elicited strong reviews, along with thoughts about the play’s ramifications in light of recent events.
Penumbra decided to stage “The Ballad of Emmett Till” in response to the Trayvon Martin shooting. What do most of us know about 17-year-old Trayvon? That he was wearing a hoodie when he walked through a white neighborhood at night. And, more recently, 17-year-old Jordan Davis? That he played rap music too loud.
After “Emmett Till,” you’ll know a great deal more about the young man whose murder (and open-casket funeral) galvanized the civil rights movement. It’s not easy to watch, but it’s not as hard as you think it will be. And strange as it feels to write this, you’ll be glad you saw it, especially as you gain some distance.
Emmett Till is a vivacious character, full of the hopes and interests and flaws of any 14-year-old boy, which makes his untimely death all the more devastating. Darrick Mosley brings the many facets of the title character to life, and though Mosley is no teenager, his youthful look helps to bridge the gap between actor and character…
There are other, modern specters hanging over the production. The murder of Trayvon Martin, for instance, is now part of the tapestry of Emmett Till’s story. In the end, this is why the story of Emmett Till must be told, again and again.
This production, smoothly directed by Talvin Wilks, is surprisingly spirited. It flows fluidly, full of verve and levity… That’s due in part to the fact that this play is not about death. It’s about life.
It’s about a boisterous teen with a stutter and a Panama hat and new white shoes. Emmett likes girls and bubble gum. He likes to sing, even though they put him out of the choir. He will dance, if given a chance. He just wants to live.
Have you seen “The Ballad of Emmett Till?” What’s your review?