A Dual Critics Review
On July 5th 2019 the Dual Critics attended an outstanding performance by playwright, poet, journalist, actor and nationally known personality Al Letson at The 5 & Dime Theatre. He was smartly dressed in a red tee shirt with the letters “get smart” across the front. We won’t even try to list all the accomplishments of this forty-seven-year old renaissance man; that would require a separate review. He wrote The Centre Cannot Hold, a reflection on mob violence in modern life. And he appeared as himself, along with multiple other characters.
He has written several plays, many of which we have reviewed. The plays include Griot: He Who Speaks The Sweet Word, Essential Personnel, Chalk, and Julius X, a rewrite of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar set in Harlem. Summer in Sanctuary is an autobiographical account of his experience working in a summer youth program in Downtown Jacksonville: the solo-performance show opened off-Broadway in 2012, then ran for nine months in San Francisco.
He began the evening by talking about his early life, which included a move from New Jersey to Florida when he was twelve. He graduated from Orange Park High School, and became well-known as a poetry slam performer. He used humor to portray many of the characters he encountered in his travels for NPR’s State of the Re:Union, a program he created in 2009 and hosted for several years. And he recounted several uncomfortable encounters related to racism at different stages of his life, often but not always with humor.
But at the play’s center is an incident that occurred on August 27, 2017 in Berkley, California at a “rally against hate” that was terrifying. At the time, he was working as a journalist for the non-profit The Center for Investigative Reporting, and was assigned to cover the event as an impartial observer. Yet when violence occurred, he intervened to protect a right-wing video blogger lying on the ground from being beaten by antifa activists. And the action he took? He shielded the man’s body with his own; an incredibly dangerous thing to do, which put his own life and physical well-being at risk. Fortunately, the antifas retreated. The violence captured on video was shown on a large screen; the red tee shirt Letson was wearing during the attack stood out.
After the (virtual) curtain, Letson opened the floor for comments and dialogue, which added additional insight into the development of the performance.
The play was directed by the talented Rob Urbinati, who has written many plays and directed multiple world premieres. He is based in New York City, where he is the Director of New Play Development at Queens Theatre.
The 5 & Dime will stage two additional performances of this thought-provoking work on Friday, July 12 at 8:00 pm and Saturday, July 13 at 9:00 pm. The Saturday performance is part of The 5 & Dime’s Post to Post Links II error: No post found with slug "the-short-attention-span-theatre-festival", which begins at 10:00 am and offers TEN one-act plays throughout the day (so no need for a trip to New York to experience theatrical immersion from morning to night).
The theatre is located at 112 East Adams Street; additional information and ticketing is available on the company’s Facebook page. For reservations, call (904) 637-5100 or visit www.The5andDime.org.