Adelaide, Adelaide Fringe 2015

Blood at the Root, Adelaide Fringe Festival 2015

0 Comments 21 February 2015

When a play takes its title from lyrics of Billie Holiday’s 1939 song ‘Strange Fruit’, a song which describes racism and lynching in the American South, you know it’s going to tackle some difficult problems. Blood at the Root, currently playing at Holden Street Theatres, does just that. Set in a Louisiana high school, the playis inspired by the true story of the Jena Six, a group of black high school students who were charged with attempted murder after beating a white student.

It is a hot October that sees similar events unfold at Cedar High. The earnestly driven Raylynn (Stori Ayers), determined to change the status quo, decides to run for class president. Her decision is cautiously supported by her friend Asha (Kenzie Ross). Raylynn also befriends the new transfer student and quarterback Colin (Tyler Reilly). Justin (Brandon Carter) is the patient newspaper editor waiting for a story from the opinionated Toria (Allison Scarlet Jaye) that will stick to the facts, just the facts.

When Raylynn sits under what is referred to as the white person’s tree in the schoolyard, everything changes. Nooses are found hanging from the tree the next day. Anger bubbles and bursts. Raylynn’s brother De’Andre (Christian Thompson) is charged along with 5 other students who beat Colin in the school cafeteria.

It reads like a play about race, but it is not as simple as that. Dominique Morisseau’s script deftly combines the themes of racism, homophobia and the difficulties of human relationships. While the play opens well, the pace drops a little in the second half, but is otherwise tightly directed by Steve Broadnax.  The use of dance and verse throughout keeps the story focussed and heightens its emotional impact.

The six-person cast from Penn State Centre Stage is strong, with all members giving emotive and convincing portrayals. They are also adept in the scenes scattered throughout the play which duck between song and spoken verse to move the plot forward, an effective tool which makes Blood that much more impactful. Thompson is enthralling in his short solo dance scenes, choreographed by Aquila Kikora Franklin. The opening scene which sees Thompson dance alone on stage is particularly strong.

Due in part to its setting in a high school, the play does at times veer towards being overly educational, and it is clear it would be an excellent production for high school students. Nonetheless, it is also a strong piece of theatre for all audiences.

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Rose is a recent Arts and International Studies graduate and admin wizard. She has a keen interest in theatre, film and performing arts. She also loves naan bread.

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