Putting it all in the spotlight

Plays bring racial issues to the stage

By Casey Kurkowski

Put down those textbooks and spend the weekend with two plays: one that confronts American society’s history of prejudice and one that provides a hip-hop view on what it means to be a black woman today.

The two plays, “A Soldier’s Play” and “for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf,” are being produced simultaneously and will be performed at Guignol Theatre. “A Soldier’s Play” will have its first performance tonight at 7:30, and “for colored girls…” will begin tomorrow night at 7:30.

“A Soldier’s Play,” which was written by Charles Fuller, explores the harsh realities of racism that still occur today, said Herman Daniel Farrell III, director of the production.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning play takes place on an army base in Louisiana in the 1940s, when the Army was racially segregated. The play begins with the shooting of a black sergeant and then develops into a murder mystery.

The performance has gotten some help from a group not normally associated with theater — the ROTC.

“I was never in the military, so I knew that I would need some help,” Farrell said. “I decided to contact the UK ROTC to see if they would be willing to help in the rehearsal process.”

Lt. Colonel Dotson, UK ROTC’s commanding officer, read the script and set up a training session for the entire cast, Farrell said.

“We were drilled in army positions and taught how to correctly salute,” said Alex Kluemper, a theater junior.

Dotson and Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Stoker taught the students about the military’s procedures and hierarchy, and the cast incorporated those lessons into their movement and character relationships, Farrell said.

“This helped give the play a certain authenticity that it so desperately needs,” he said.

Emannuel Thurman, a chemical engineering and theater senior, said he hopes the audience will gain a better understanding and appreciation for African-American theater.

“There are far too little avenues for African-Americans in theater here in Lexington,” he said.

This weekend’s other play, “for colored girls…” by Ntozake Shange, is a series of poems that blends music and dance. The play is based around hip-hop music and explores issues including abortion and rape.

Each of the play’s characters is identified simply by the color she wears, said director Elizabeth A. Herron.

“This is a play that’s not really character-driven — it’s more story-driven,” Herron said.

Herron, a guest director from New York, said the series of 20 poems explores the everyday realities of black women. Although “for colored girls…” was originally performed in the 1970s, Herron said she tried to make the set, costumes and lighting younger and more contemporary so audiences today could better relate to it.

“I grew up with this material as a backdrop to my life. My mother owned the album, and I was fortunate enough to hear it  several times during my development,” said La’Shelle Allen, a vocal performance freshman.

“It is an honor to present this work at UK,” Allen said. “I hope that after people see this piece, they are opened to the obstacles of others. We all walk different paths to enlightenment. I would hope that compassion for others in their journey is always present in our hearts.”

Tickets are $5 for students, $10 for seniors and UK faculty and staff, and $15 for general admission. For additional showtimes and ticket information, contact the Singletary Center for the Arts at (859) 257-4929.