Blood At The Root
4 stars ****
Assembly George Square (Venue 17)
WHEN THE United States elected its first black president, in 2008, many people hoped that his inauguration might draw a line under the long history of racial injustice, oppression and inequality in America. The record suggests, though, that history moves more slowly than that; and this month’s events in Ferguson, Missouri come as a sharp reminder that there are still parts of America where being a young black man is enough in itself to attract official suspicion, and even violence.
So it’s both interesting and inspiring to see the Penn State School of Theatre bring to the Fringe this powerful and timely new play by Dominique Morrisseau, based on a real-life incident, which examines what happens when a black student at a mixed high school in deep-south Louisiana decides to question the unspoken “rules” that still govern the uneasy interaction between black and white students. In no time at all, racial tensions flare, with fights in the canteen and demonstrations in the schoolyard; and six young black students face the threat of a lifetime in prison, after an attack on a white classmate.
Featuring a vivid mix of dialogue, movement and sound, Blood At The Root makes its points with a graphic, open-hearted clarity that sometimes seems a shade obvious. Yet Morrisseau’s play is not afraid to tackle some of the more complex aspects of racial politics in the USA, from the ambivalent attitude of some black students who want to put the racist past behind them, to the shocking bias that is evident in the criminal justice system. And the level of commitment and understanding from Steve Broadnax’s young six-strong cast is unfailingly impressive, in a show that revolves around a terrific central performanc from Stori Ayers as Raylynn, the black student who decides that the old rules are no longer acceptable, and who risks paying a high price for her civic courage.