The last day of Fringe felt much like the first…with one major difference. After spending the first two days at St Mary’s Lyceum I was happy to have a change of venue. At this point a description of the differences between this year’s two Fringe spaces would benefit no one. We’ll let it rest at the fact that Unitarian Church is just that, a church, wooden pews and all. The forced aesthetic reverence, the associations from my childhood were all present during the first of my evening viewings.
To My Unborn Child: A Love Letter From Fred Hampton was one of the most powerful pieces I saw over the weekend. As a political choice the story of the Black Panthers is hyper-relevant. Contemporary activist and conscious communities of various shades are finding new links to and resonance with the stories of the Panthers, COINTELPRO (the counterintelligence operation that essentially murdered and jailed a generation of powerful black leadership in our country), community defense and cooperative programs. Those stories have a lot to teach us about what it means to struggle and how to go about fighting for change in a world that wants to divide and conquer, and is highly skilled at it.
During the performance Richard Bradford reaches out from the 60’s and incorporates some of the strong physical imagery that we (somewhat incorrectly) associate with movements of our current time. The show reminds the audience that black bodies lying in pools of blood at the hand of police, that black hands in the air, and that anger at the politics of older black leaders spans decades of struggle. Bradford personalizes Hampton’s story beautifully. There is a central choice that opens the play wherein Hampton is laying in a pool of his own blood staining his bedsheet. The blood stained sheet remains front and center for the entirety of the performance and acts as not just a reminder of the end of one person’s life, but also used at one point as the blood of community in which Hampton both politically and personally shrouds himself, and at another point as the blood of his living son with a dire political tone.
As an actor Bradford has the energy and skill to hold us for the entire show, no small feat for such an energetic performance. We are invited into the passion, sadness, and community of Hampton’s vision. I was reminded of another performer, Roger Guenveur Smith, who did a similar show in the late nineties, but at that time embodied Huey P. Newton. If you don’t get a chance at some point to see Richard Bradford’s performance I would suggest you watch Spike Lee’s recording of Smith’s, A Huey P. Newton Story. I didn’t get a chance to ask if Bradford had been influenced by this production, but I find the act of embodying historical political personages as a brilliant device for communicating radical political thought through the very flesh, blood, and emotive tissue of humanness. In radical struggle there is a deep love, for self and for others.
The last show of my short Fringe career was Dean Temple’s, A Voice of Authority. Over the course of the performance Temple literally asks us to be his personal shrink, calling the audience Doc, as in, “Hey, doc, what do you think about this…”. We are asked to evaluate two lives, one of a person who struggled for something he didn’t care about, and one who struggled to attain a clear dream. Temple’s piece is based on a true story, and the details embedded within the performance feel like they couldn’t be entirely made up by anyone. The titular voice of authority is one that can lead us toward a false sense of safety. It does not hold our, or Temple’s, true desires at heart. In the end there is not a major reveal or conclusion other than, hey, we just gotta keep trying.
That theme bookended my fringe experience. My first show of the weekend was Michael Marino’s piece, Show Up, which had a similar core sense of itself. So like I said, I left Fringe as I had begun.