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Let’s Talk About Detroit Red!

Performances for Detroit Red have finally begun and we could not be more excited to bring this world premiere to Boston. It is truly a moment to celebrate, to tell this story where it happened, and to ensure our community is right alongside us as we delve into Malcolm X’s time in Boston. Of course, we’d love to hear from you about what this play sparked for you and continue the conversation in the comments. Below are a few prompts to drum up some ideas, but we invite you to share whatever thoughts come to you.

  • How did this play change your idea of Boston’s history?
  • What resonated with you about Detroit Red’s journey?
  • Can you think back to a decision in your own life that feels significant?

Feel free to leave a comment on this blog post, or reach out on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram and be sure to check back here for more reviews from press and other audience members!

REVIEWS

“When a life is as complicated as that of Malcolm X, history books can only tell part of the story. Power’s poeticized, episodic account of how Malcolm X learned what he learned, and how he became what he became, ultimately adds up to AN ENGROSSING PORTRAIT OF THE ACTIVIST AS A YOUNG MAN.”

STYLISHLY DIRECTED by Lee Sunday Evans.”

“Eric Berryman delivers AN ELECTRIC PERFORMANCE.”The Boston Globe

“Eric Berryman delivers A LASTING AND INCREDIBLY POWERFUL PERFORMANCE.” – Jared Bowen, WGBH

“Playwright Will Power lives up to his name with A MESMERIZING STORY.”

 “A FULLY-REALIZED ARTISTIC EXPLORATION. Hyper-imaginative integration of theater and…eye-popping, larger than life film projection. Whatever you call their style of theater, I WANT TO SEE MORE OF IT.”WBUR

“AMBITIOUS.  OUTSTANDING.  A multi-media piece that hits hard on multiple levels.”

“Eric Berryman’s bravura performance comes off genuine and brutally honest. Edwin Lee Gibson and Brontë England-Nelson play multiple characters throughout the show displaying remarkable versatility and depth.”

“Edwin Lee Gibson and Brontë England-Nelson play multiple characters, displaying REMARKABLE VERSATILITY AND DEPTH.” – METRMAG.com

“DIRECTOR LEE SUNDAY EVANS HAS CRAFTED ONE OF THOSE RARE GEMS. She has a firm grasp on the possibilities of modern technology and the ways it can shape theatre, but, perhaps more importantly, the way it has shaped audiences. Hers will be a name to watch out for in the coming decade.” –  BroadwayWorld.com

AUDIENCE RAVES

“Intense. Insightful. At times uncomfortable like a great roller coaster ride Detroit Red leaves nothing to chance. Well done, WillPower. Boston hurry and get your tickets!” – @FMLowery89

“It’s great–highly recommended.” – Marilyn Bernstein, Facebook

“Really well written, and deep insight into what influences a person to become who they are. Great scenes and performances.” – Erin L. McCormack, Facebook 

“Excellent performance!” – Jo Ann Fitzgerald, Facebook

“A well acted roller coaster of Malcolm X life before he was Malcolm X! Intense!” -@Afoodaficionado

“Go see Detroit Red. It’s beautiful and raw and painful and hopeful.” – @jendeaderick

15 Comments

  1. Awesome show ! Incredible acting, love the mix btw film and theater and all the staging ! Brilliant job !

    Reply
  2. Bonny SaulnierFebruary 2, 2020 at 6:36 pm

    Intense, powerful, suspenseful – even though we know what Malcolm X became. There was throughout the play a visceral sense of what it was to be black and male in that time and place, much of which has not changed since then. And a brilliant performance by Eric Berryman who ran the gamut of emotions and never stopped.

    Reply
    • Thank you for writing, Bonny. I agree, the play is intense and powerful. I hadn’t thought about it as suspenseful, but of course that’s true to for me!

      Will Power, the playwright, has talked at various points about how important the play is for him as a conversation starter with young people, young black men in general. First, he talks about how, if we only ever see our heroes as having no flaws– and more importantly having no journey to greatness, only their greatness– it leaves no room for people trapped in the type of narratives that Detroit Red was before his arrest to imagine a bigger future, a longer arc of time for their lives. Second, he talks about the importance of understanding that there are choices to make, even in dire and extreme circumstances, about what story you are living. Detroit Red came to rock bottom before Malcolm dropped that narrative of himself and turned toward a different future. This is part, I think of why the play feels so present tense and related to today. I’m glad this seems to have landed for you. It seems to be landing for many, many people.

      Reply
    • Thank you for taking the time to write. It is always helpful to our audience to hear from other audience members about their experience. Word of mouth is our most powerful tool for building both the audience and the institution.

      Reply
  3. Elynor L. WalcottFebruary 3, 2020 at 3:55 am

    The Performance For This Play Was Absolutely GREAT!!!

    Reply
  4. Haywood FennellFebruary 3, 2020 at 6:48 am

    To me and to be honest as this depiction has not been iit was not good and needs a rewrite. There is no mention of strife other than hearing the name of Louis Fay-Hicks that I heard in some reading in the post performance aspect by some readers without the presence of an audience. To think that you would write in the name of the late Ms Elma Lewis did not help. Just mentioning the word Roxbury without its History is not enough. There should have been mention of the night clubs and the home that Malcolm’s aunt owned on Mass Ave. dedicated to the Movement. This project was not researched and it has disfigured a great leader. You have crippled any thoughts with the playwright’s inferences around the sex of Malcolm. Clearly, you have done a disservice to our community. My thoughts.

    Reply
    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Haywood. I hope others will come here to share as well. I wanted to clarify a couple of things in here for other people reading along– and perhaps they will clarify some things for you as well about the experience.

      Much of what you are writing about is from the short play written by community members about Malcolm’s sister Ella that was read following the performance on Tuesday, 2/4. This arose from their work with Will Power during the two years of development of Detroit Red and their desire to also make space to talk about Ella, who was a force in their personal lives as well as the neighborhood– and most definitively in Malcolm’s young life. It sounds like that context may not have been clear to you. Apologies if that left you confused. Most of the audience for Detroit Red won’t have experienced this reading, which was very well received by many who stayed.

      It is interesting to me that you experienced the play as casting inferences around Malcolm Little’s sexuality. You are not alone in raising this concern. The scene in question is pretty carefully structured to make clear that what is happening is a scene about power, and being stripped of any sense of power or agency is what makes him first lash out at Mr. Lennon, and then come to grips with the fact that he’s on a path to nowhere and a life that will dishonor his father’s expectations for him if he continues down it. It’s this moment that ultimately leads him to decide to allow himself to be arrested and to begin a new path, albeit one that leads through prison, but ultimately one that elevates him to the place of such power and impact on the world that we came to know him through. For some in the audience, the playing out of the attempted abuse by Mr. Lennon is read as saying that Malcolm was complicit in this moment. Here, Malcolm is shown ultimately rebelling against his subjugation and taking back his own power in the moment. It’s a shocking and violent moment– as it was in his life– and I can understand how different people receive it differently.

      I’m saddened to read you feel a disservice has been done. Perhaps others in the audience and of the community can speak to that with more authority. But we often talk here, at ArtsEmerson, about the fact that here is a difference between intention and impact. Clearly the playwright’s intention was to speak up to– and for– the struggles that Malcolm endured before he came to be the leader he became. But I hear that, for you, the impact was otherwise and I can honor your experience as well.

      Reply
  5. I thought the overall performance of Detroit Red was well done, especially the performance of Eric Berryman. I loved the integration of live character and film images on stage; I thought it was quite interactive. I must admit I was left “wanting for more” especially Malcolm’s conversion to Islam while incarcerated. In full transparency – I grew up with two of Malcolm’s nephews (on the South Shore), and three of my great aunts where members of the Nation of Islam, and were directly involved in Malcolm’s indoctrination to the nation while in jail. (These Muslim sisters were monitored by the FBI until their deaths in the early 70’s). I believe Malcolm had two sisters (Mary & Ella). Mary tried to erect a statute to her brother on her front lawn and was denied by the local town zoning board. Great Play “Detroit Red”.

    Reply
  6. Rachelle BrowneFebruary 8, 2020 at 8:49 pm

    David:
    The three actors are superb. Also, I am glad that the playwright chose to focus on this stage of Malcolm’s life, his time in Boston with an intervening stay in NYC. However, I was concerned with the artistic choices in two respects. First, there may have been a missed opportunity, in terms of broadening the social justice undertones of the play, in focussing on an event prior to Malcolm’s time in prison, as triggering his transformation, when in fact it was the prison experience that was transformative. Your will recall while in prison the term “devil” was used in reference to Malcolm during his initial stay in prison. Second, by placing such a significant emphasis on Marable’s and others’ supposition about Malcolm’s sexual encounter with the Beacon Hill attorney, regardless of intent, the impact is, as one audience member shared during the post play discussion, “she took away the image of Malcolm’s disrobing which will stay with her always.” That appears to have been what most moved her about the play. When his Boston experience was so much more than that. I chose to avert my eyes when Malcolm starts to disrobe since Malcolm has been my hero for decades and I did not want that or the images thereafter to stay with me.
    Thanks for moderating this blog. Such a unique opportunity to share thoughts.

    Reply
    • Thank you for writing, Rachelle. I’m sorry I missed you at the theater! And I’m also glad to hear your thoughts on the play.

      One note regarding Malcolm X’s transformative experiences, and how I understand what the playwright has created here by focusing on Detroit Red. The play only takes us up to the moment of letting go an identity, that of Detroit Red, not the building up of his subsequent, and lasting identity. You are so right that the prison experiences were transformative and those experiences gave life to Malcolm X. This play is the moment he let go of a dead-end narrative that gave him the chance to “look for other becomings” as the character says in that final monologue. Had he shot the cop, that would have been the end of the story. He’d never have begun the new one. I’ll paste the whole monologue below so you can see what I’m seeing.

      (Spoiler alert below.)

      And, I also hear you, and others, saying the image of Malcolm in Mr. Lennon’s home, naked, is overwhelming. I was speaking this morning with someone who felt she didn’t hear the rest of the play because she was battling with that moment. The scene actually ends with him striking out, trying to take his power back in an act of violence that rattles him to his core. “I almost killed a man, Shorty.”, he says, staring at his hands, as the final scene begins. In this play, that is the character hitting rock bottom. It’s the moment that wakes him to his decision to leave the Detroit Red story behind. And, for some in the audience, the capacity to hear and receive that action, and the rest of the play is eclipsed. I am so glad people who are having this experience are sharing it with us and the playwright. You are the first people to experience the play, ever, and Will and Lee Sunday Evans are learning a lot from your willingness to engage the piece and the production like this. Invaluable to the artists, this thoughtful and generous critique. So thank you!

      Here is that monologue at the end, his gun pointed at the back of the cop’s head:
      “Here lies a man named Little,” they’ll say
      “Little man become hustler two-bit
      To still shuffler on moving railroad
      To ship steerer form of boatwright
      Across the seas of venom
      He sold black pain for white pleasure
      And beat white flesh until it’s red and dripping

      He was-
      A Pimp
      An abuser
      Coon smiler
      Peddler of rags
      Malcolm was…a whore”
      They’ll say

      And now this-Little to become
      Murderer of men, the final face of Little
      Just one soft flick, and it’s done.
      One gesture and become
      Cop killer, killed by cops
      Then morgue in body with mistaken tag
      “Is this Little or Leon?” “Does it matter?”
      This act done, then wiped from memory
      One final act, then rest

      Becoming
      Becoming
      Becoming…
      All these things before, ways of Little
      Faces worn
      Facades constructed.
      You hold now.
      Think of other becomings
      For wretched life
      Yet wretched moments not all
      The wretched still eek out joy moments
      See my siblings, together
      In garden, life everywhere
      Feel-mother’s knee, there on porch
      Overlooking the garden
      I sit on lap as mother reads to me
      The latest news of lands that are far but seem near
      As momma’s embrace brings me close

      Now taste-Ella’s tremendous pots a’ soul
      No matter chaos of Red, dinner at table with her
      She grounds and stirs me like the pots she stirred
      Like the efforts made to keep Red breathing
      Moments
      When Detroit Red was not
      Then the hour
      When Detroit Red was Red no longer
      You pause
      Still breath
      Rest… to not.. rest.

      Reply
      • Rachelle BrowneFebruary 19, 2020 at 2:10 pm

        David:

        Thanks for replying and sharing the monologue. My sister and I sat in the first row and I thought that I had listen closely. But reading the actual words helps in understanding further the author’s view of the importance of that moment in the jewelry store. The words remind me of, what many have described as, the flashcard like review of one’s life before a sudden pending death. This play, like all art, should make one ponder and cherish life and all its meanings, including the lives of others! And, this play does that!

        Again thanks for sharing the monologue and replying.

        Rachelle

        Reply
  7. Loved the play, theater and actors. Would have liked a few wardrobe changes for Malcom; hair, train and suit scenes. Bronte England-Nelson is quite the artist but they don’t even make Meryl Streep be that versatile. It sent a good message that you “didn’t need a white guy” but I would have liked to see one. Especially in the nude scene. If you’re going to have nudity may as well have great nudity! Just my thoughts.

    Reply
    • Thank you for writing, Chuck. Glad to hear your thoughts on it and that it was a good experience for you. It’s an interesting question to consider what might feel different in the play if it had a white man in those roles. Will Power had always imagined it with three actors, so we didn’t explore other configurations in this first production. But it is the first production, and so much is always learned in that process.

      Reply
  8. The actors did an amazing job. I really wish there were more than 3 actors to make it a more dynamic play. The same screen with the same 3 actors and only 2 in different costumes became a little redundant to me. I wished the hair on the actor that played Malcolm was a little redder to be honest haha. I understand the story is most important but this can be told with more than 3 actors and a moving set. People may not remember all of the story but they will remember what the play made them feel. After reading whom the ending was intended for I can see the point, but it seems to me the majority of people consuming this play were of an older generation and were therefore disappointed by its ending.

    Reply

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