Al Letson isn’t letting anyone off the hook.
If that’s not clear in the buildup to John Coffey Refuses to Save the World, it becomes abundantly so when these imaginary characters get real.
“Black lives matter and so do imaginary black lives,” Letson says after opening night of his play’s first-ever staging, for The 5 & Dime, A Theatre Company.
The setup appears simple enough but also incredibly demanding of a talented cast — take fictional characters we know and know too well, then trap them in a room together. They are John Coffey of The Green Mile, the god of Bruce Almighty, Mother Abigail of The Stand, and Bagger of The Legend of Bagger Vance.
You might call them the “League of Extraordinary Black Stereotypes.”
Here, as they’ve been called in the past by Spike Lee and others, they’re “Magical Negroes.”
Playwright Letson and director Michelle Simkulet utilize them to far more potent effect than their creators ever did — or could.
“The important thing about this script is that a lot of people who are creating our entertainment don’t understand black people,” Letson explained.
Letson makes it clear that his writing of these characters, especially John, came from a place of love, not loathing. Here, they fight for a chance to defy — if defying means simply to live real lives.
Letson wrote the play on a trip to the southeast African Republic of Malawi in 2012 — before the killing of Trayvon Martin, the acquittal of George Zimmerman, and the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.
Letson points out he could have written the play in 2000 or 2017. The news may be different, but the fact remains: “America does not deal with its race problem.”
The WJCT host and producer of State of the Re:Union and Reveal, poet and artist may not be able to see the future, but he remains at the leading edge of critical … More