Don't believe what your eyes are telling you. All they show is limitation. Look with your understanding, find out what you already know, and you'll see the way to fly.

Friday, July 16, 2010

350 - Opening Night - Pride and Shame

This is a picture of a postcard currently for sale online, $385.  It's a photo of the crowd gathered around the dead, hanging body of Leo Frank in 1915.

Tonight, I shut off the videographer in my mind and once again became a theatre patron.  After a wonderful dinner with Holly and Redgie, it was off to opening night of Parade.  After being at the theatre for the past 3 nights, I was now really familiar with the show.  For me, the more familiar I am, the more the emotions ring.  I don't have to think and understand, I can just be.  Sitting in the front row with a wall of sound just a few feet away from me, I could "just be" and many of the storie's layers hit home.

For the purpose of expediency, here's a brief introduction/history of what happened in 1913.  "Leo Max Frank (April 17, 1884 – August 17, 1915) was an American man, the superintendent of a pencil factory in Atlanta, Georgia. Frank was convicted of the murder of one of his factory workers, 13-year-old Mary Phagan. The case is widely regarded as having been a miscarriage of justice.

It was the focus of many conflicting cultural pressures, and the jury's conclusion represented, in part, class and regional resentment of educated Northern industrialists who were perceived to be wielding too much power in the South, threatening Southern culture and morality. The trial was sensationalized by the media. The publisher and former U.S. Representative Thomas E. Watson used the case to build personal political power and support for a revival of the Ku Klux Klan.

Shortly after Frank's conviction, new evidence emerged that cast doubt on his guilt. After the governor commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment, Frank was kidnapped from prison and lynched by a group of citizens who called themselves the Knights of Mary Phagan. The ringleaders included a former governor, a senator's son, a Methodist minister, a state legislator, and a former state Superior Court judge.

In 1913, in response to Frank's conviction, the B'nai B'rith founded the Anti-Defamation League. Ultimately, in 1986, "[w]ithout attempting to address the question of guilt or innocence," Georgia granted Frank a pardon."  [ ]

Jason Robert Brown's musical stayed very, very close to the actual reports of the case and trial.  The music is powerful and emotional, and the story very poignant.  The Players By The Sea production sports a cast of 30, an orchestra of 8, and most of our best theatre people in Jacksonville.  When I saw the tech rehearsal on Tuesday, I was stunned; when I saw it tonight, I was left emotionally exhausted.

I cannot find a weak link in the cast ... at all!  With a cast this big, that's unusual, but there is none.  The leads are beyond phenomenal.  Their character work to completely encompass these actual people in our history is stellar.  Josh and Staci especially - the emotional journey their character's take must be extremely difficult and their portrayal is not only believable but where even if you know them, you forget who they are in real life.  They are Leo and Lucille Frank.  After I got home tonight, I sent out a couple of emails encouraging some friends to make reservations to see this show.  My comment - I haven't been this moved, this "WOW'd" by a production since I saw Light in the Piazza in New York.  I can't give much higher praise than that.

The production/cast/orchestra/crew is the "pride" part of this blog.  The "shame" part comes from that ugly part of the southern heritage.  Back on March 5th, I wrote the following concerning the song "Strange Fruit" from Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill: "I felt ashamed at how some in the generations prior to us treated black people. Bigotry is something I cannot wrap my mind around, that someone could treat another human being in that manner no matter what their reason. As much as it horrifies me, I'm glad that I cannot fathom it."  This show, Parade, brought out the same shame.

Talking with Michael during intermission tonight, I told him how I'm very proud to be a Southerner but there are parts of that heritage that I am ashamed of.  I know, I know - it was another time completely, something that many have finally evolved past.  That still doesn't mean it isn't ugly.  The lynching of Leo Frank brought the KKK back into existence; the politics behind them breaking him OUT of jail to hang him got the next governor elected.  People danced around his body; they sold pieces of the hanging rope as souvenirs.  There were post cards made of the lynching.  Hell, they even wanted to lynch Slaton, the governor who commuted Frank's sentence from death to life in prison.  That is reprehensible.  What scares me is that there are people out there, in 2010, who still believe this same way.

But, back to the production at Players - there are not enough superlatives to give credence to this show.  Hat's off and deep bows to everyone involved.


  1. Great post... You're writing, your sentiment. This show is a big mix of emotions for most all of us, I would say.

  2. Beautiful prose that captures not only your personal, emotional connect to the project; but a larger cultural view that helps put the piece into perspective. I hope you don't mind, but I would like to copy this and "post" it back stage for the cast to read (just in case they didn't get to read in on FACEBOOK).

    The funny thing about this project is that I think most of the cast (Judy and I, included)approached it from an artistic point of view. We didn't attach ourselves to the specific message, but rather to the power of art to tell a story and help explain this crazy world we live in. And this, even after Michael showed us the documentary at the read-through. It wasn't until we saw the fully-realized hanging take place on stage that it hit home that this play is more than just a piece of theatre. For many of us, we can not even watch the hanging anymore.

    Thank you for giving us your unique prospective. What a treat to perform for someone who knows just how it feels to be on stage, back stage, behind a camera, and in the mind of the creative team that brought this project to life.