The Sheen Center for Thought and Culture currently hosts Little Rock, a play based on the true story of the “The Little Rock Nine”, the first black students known to attend their city’s formerly segregated Little Rock Central High School three years after the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision ruled separating students based on race was unconstitutional.
Staged on an unassuming set upon which historical photos are projected throughout the performance, Little Rock tells the story of these teenagers’ experience with unfettered racism, asking its audience to consider the balance between living life as it is given vs. living it as it is dreamed to be. Additionally, the promotional tagline “history called it heroism – they called it high school” pointedly highlights the conflict of placing children into a spotlight for political motives.
The actors play multiple parts, at least three and more, and this deliberate convention does add an interesting layer to the production. It also gives the actors many character exploration opportunities, which they clearly enjoyed, although their depiction of teenagers was on the young side and some of the smaller parts were broadly played. The actors shone most prominently in the meatier, more emotional scenes, and provided beautiful, soulful vocals when the script called for some well-placed inspirational singing.
It did not escape notice that only 6 of the 9 historic students are characterized in this play. With the actors playing triple parts and more, it was a missed opportunity that the 3 other students weren’t represented in the story.
Overall, this play makes an extremely important contribution in its sharing of a story that isn’t known to many. It reminds of the ugliness of racism that unfortunately still exists today. This story and its passionate cast deserve an audience.
“True character is who you are when no one else is watching” – writer/director Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj.
Little Rock enjoys a limited engagement through September 8th at The Sheen Center for Thought & Culture (18 Bleecker Street). For information/tickets, visit here.