The cast Grant Gunderson, Sammie Wayne, Tabitha Petrini, Jeff LeBleu (in back with glasses on),
Daniel Tolbert, Cassandra Cardenes, Etienne Maurice in front, William Warren behind him,
Darrel Phillip, Jason C. Daniels, Jennifer Jones, Melvin S. Ward (in the back),
Sophie Lamzik (with cigarette) and Ben Michaels (kneeling).
By Darlene Donloe
February is Black History Month. It’s the perfect time to unlock the innumerable stories that make up the Colored/Negro/African American/Black American experience.
One of those stories took place on Feb. 1, 1960. That’s when four college students (David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, and Joseph McNeil) staged a sit-in at the all-white Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. Their act sparked several sit-ins around the country and national interests in the civil rights movement.
Playwright Ed Simpson brings the story to life as part of an All The Way West Productions, Inc. presentation of its Black History production of Periphery.
Periphery is a play about citizens, white and black alike, who must choose between continuing the injustices of the past and moving forward toward a unified America. Some of the views are surprising. The play is also about the people who sit just outside of the action, but were, nonetheless, emotionally, physically and mentally invested.
Before a stark stage with just the basics, the play takes off like a history lesson with the actors talking directly to the audience. One by one they peel back the layers on their individual stories, as well as the actual story about the sit-ins. The audience will find that not everyone is who they seem. Not everyone wants change. Some people would prefer not to rock the boat and it doesn’t fall neatly across color lines. Some black folks support the sit-ins, while others think it’s a waste of time. Some whites are outraged, while others are sympathetic.
A young black man in the show, played by Etienne Maurice, said the movement is about “deciding what kind of world” they were going to live in, while a young white woman wants to know “what are “they” trying to prove?”
Although she makes good use of the entire stage, some of Lorey Hayes’ direction distorts the flow.
Sammie Wayne and Daniel Tolbert
One of the characters, Nate, played superbly by theater veteran Sammie Wayne, is the black father of a teenage son (an excellent Daniel Tolbert) who gets involved in the movement. Nate thinks the movement is “a bunch of kids who have big ideas in their heads. They sat somewhere they weren’t wanted. I don’t need to sit as a counter to know I’m a man.” Nate is obviously from a different generation. He’s content not to ruffle feathers, but warms up to the idea of his son taking a stance.
After witnessing the sit-in, a young white male says “It’s not a Negro thing, it’s a human thing.” Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, an older black man who works in the Woolworth’s can’t quite wrap his head around why the “disrespectful colored boys” are opening up a can of worms.
Over and over again the diverse group of actors reiterate how people can stand up by sitting down.
The uneven acting by some in the show - who also didn't seem confident in their blocking, is buoyed by the solid thespian skills of others.
Writer Ed Simpson has penned a solid and memorable moment in black history.
Periphery, written by Ed Simpson and directed by Lorey Hayes, stars Cassandra Cardenas, Jason C. Daniels, Grant Gunderson, Beverlix Jean-Baptiste, Jennifer Jones, Sophie Lamzik, Jeff LeBeau, Etienne Maurice, Ben Michaels, Tabitha Petrini, Darrell Philip, Naiyah D. Scaife, Rashad Scroggins, Daniel Tolbert, Melvin S. Ward, William Warren and Sammie Wayne.
Periphery, Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90038; 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays through Feb 26, 2017; $10-$30; 323 856-4249 or 323 960-1055.