The Good Negro by Sarah Gianni
The 1960’s were indeed a tumultuous time in American history. Society was changing, yet as with all major change, the opposition resorted to dirty tactics. This backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement sets the scene for the play The Good Negro, written by Tracy Scott Wilson.
Billy Eugene Jones (James Lawrence) played his complex character incredibly well. The audience looks to him as a hero, since he is the leader of the civil rights cause in this play. However, it’s a sad day when you realize your hero is not infallible, and Jones’ character is just that. The strong, idyllic leader’s image is marred by infidelity which he tries to hide from the public due to his fear that the movement would fall apart. We learn Lawrence’s love for his cause is greater than that for his wife. However, this back story to the main point of the play gives it a more human quality.
Some may say the set, which was entirely made of wood, needed more flash for a play of this caliber. I disagree. The lack of adornment made the audience focus more on the actors. One of the most significant parts of the set was a huge cross made of light that spanned the entire stage. The main part of the cross was always on the left side (where the church was) while one of the arms extended all the way across the stage behind the CIA agents area. One got the distinct impression that not only was the stage supposed to be the inside of the church that Lawrence preached at, but it in fact encompassed the entire story. It seemed that all the events took place within the church, but indirectly.
I really enjoyed what went on during the transitions between scenes, which included actual photographs of the marches in the sixties that were projected onto the background. This gave the audience a deeper connection to the events of the time and what was being described in the play. Also projected on the walls are quotes that were woven into the dialogue as well, such as “Can’t keep letting them walk all over us”, and “We shall not be moved”.
One of the most powerful moments occurred when both Reverend Lawrence and Paul Moore (Played by John Hoogenakker) deliver impassioned speeches about each cause. This parallel of speech was interesting to make, because the audience could see how each group believed what they were fighting for was the right cause.
Overall, I found this play to be very well acted and well written. Based on the events and the overall development of the characters and its connection to historical events, one can clearly see that Tracy Scott Wilson put her heart and soul in writing this play. If you want to see a play that ties into history and appears as if it could have actually happened, then The Good Negro is one you won’t want to miss.