Julia Dennis – The Good Negro

June 30, 2010 in Cindy Bandle Young Critics by Cindy-Bandle-Young-Critics

The Good Negro: Unusual take on civil rights movement a must see by Julia Dennis

Possibly the most striking thing about “The Good Negro” is the set. Or rather, lack thereof. The background for the entire play is comprised of a wooden wall resembling a church along with two tables and a few chairs. Although it is starkly different than the phenomenal sets of other Goodman plays (namely Johnstown Flood) the bare stage fulfills its purpose in emphasizing the brilliant script, written by Tracy Scott Wilson.

“The Good Negro” tells the story of a Reverend James Lawrence (Billy Eugene Lawrence) and Co who know what it feels like to be “tired of loving in the face of hate” yet are trying to fire up the people of Birmingham. One Ms. Sullivan (Nambi E. Kelley) would be particularly helpful in riling up supporters with the story of how her five-year-old daughter was taken away from her. At the same time, FBI agents enlist the help of Gary Thomas Rowe to learn the plans of the Klu Klux Klan. The agents are also listening in to the working of Reverend Lawrence and his movement. However, internal problems can just as easily bring down a movement as enemies can.

One particularly effective aspect of the play was the use of a split stage. Two characters gave contrasting speeches as the spotlight shone on them, and froze as the other spoke. Lawrence addressed his congregation as Rowe spoke to the KKK, both ending by saying, “Help us my friends” together. Both sides of the civil movement are the same at the core. They fight for what they believe, often formed through religiously based beliefs. “The Good Negro” emphasizes lesser known effects of the civil rights movement, not only heartbreaking events in Lawrence and Ms. Sullivan’s lives but the FBI’s manipulation of Rowe. In one particular scene, Rowe tells the FBI that he would have never joined the KKK if not for them. The tragedy of the situation on both sides of the movement is shown through struggles of specific characters. The humanness of these characters makes their perseverance in the movement even more admirable.

The greatest achievement of “The Good Negro” is to make the audience feel. The beautifully written story’s dependence on the realistic characters allows the power of the message to shine through.