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Manbites Dog Theater Review: Minstrel Show Is a Gritty Chronicle of the Lynching of William Brown

August 29, 2003 - Durham, NC:


Manbites Dog Theater kicked off its 17th season last week with a riveting reprise of its critically acclaimed production of Minstrel Show: The Lynching of William Brown, performed in the round. Written by Max Sparber and directed by Natalie Sowell, Minstrel Show stars Lakeetha Blakeney as Yas Yas and Dalmar Montgomery as Sho' Nuff, a charming pair of African-American singers, dancers, and comedians who toured America, circa 1919, performing a minstrel show for African-American audiences that differs markedly from the show that white entertainers in blackface performed for all-white audiences.

In Minstrel Show, Yas Yas and as Sho' Nuff become reluctant witnesses to the horrifying lynching in 1919 of a crippled, terrified prisoner named William Brown, a black man accused of molesting a teenaged white laundress in Omaha, Nebraska. Themselves in jail on a highly dubious charge of disturbing the peace after being attacked by a white mob, Yas Yas and as Sho' Nuff watched in horror as rampaging rabid horde of 20,000 white peckerwoods broke into the jail, tore William Brown away from his jailers at the Douglas County Courthouse, shot him to death, then hanged and burned his terribly mutilated body. (The famous photograph of this especially gruesome lynching is a horrifying reminder that the good old days were not so good for all segments of the community.)

Thanks to sensitive staging by director Natalie Sowell and charismatic characterizations by Lakeetha Blakeney and Dalmar Montgomery, Minstrel Show superbly mixes the trademark shucking and jiving and strutting of these fictional minstrels with their sober and sorrowful recollections of this real-life racial atrocity.

Minstrel Show is a painful reminder of this nation's checkered past and a real eye-opener for generations of Americans too young to remember evils of segregation. Don't miss it.

Manbites Dog Theater presents Minstrel Show: The Lynching of William Brown Friday-Saturday, Aug. 29-30, at 8:15 p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 31, at 3:15 p.m.; Wednesday-Thursday, Sept. 3-4, at 8:15 p.m.; Sunday, Sept. 7, at 3:15 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 11-13, at 8:15 p.m. at 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina. $15 Friday-Sunday and $10 Wednesday-Thursday. 919/682-3343 OR http://www.tix.com/Schedule.asp?OrganizationNumber=150&SortOrder=Act [inactive 8/04]. http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/2/.