Two Plays, Many Viewpoints

Though Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day looked different this year due to COVID-19 regulations and the fact that students were not on campus like past years, students and faculty were still able to put on the workshops and shows that are looked forward to. 

For me, participating in MLK Day this year meant huddling over a Zoom call on my phone in order to enjoy the day’s events. One particular event stood out as more personable to me and helped me feel like I wasn’t so far away from Bates. Professor Clifford Odle, who was recently promised a tenure track position, got the inspiration from his Bates colleague, Justin Moriarty, to put together a group of plays that dealt with race, identity, and police brutality. Professor Odle, a playwright himself, put on his two plays for MLK Day. 

Professor Odle explains that both plays were written long before this year’s MLK Day. “Running The Bulls” was “partially inspired by a debate [he] heard about African Americans and politics featuring J.C Watts, a former Black Republican Congressman from Oklahoma, as well as the Rage Against the Machine song ‘Bulls on Parade.’”

The second, “Slamming the Bones,” was similar in its composition: it was written in response to historical events and inspired by conversations Professor Odle had regarding the Million Man March that took place in 1995. 

“Running the Bulls” was a play that discussed differing political opinions in the Black community between conservatives or right-leaning people and more liberal or left-leaning ones. Brother Real, a left-leaning radio host, played by Dawrin Silfa ‘21, is joined by Lester Rawlings, played by J’von Ortiz-Cedeno ‘22, a Black Republican state senator now running for governor, on his radio show, Running the Bulls. 

Before Rawlings joins the show, Brother Real talks to a number of other callers played by Emily Diaz ‘23, Associate Dean of Students James Reese, and Muskan Verma ‘21. The calls came from people of various backgrounds asking for advice on personal issues, bringing an authenticity to the play. Diaz’s call, for example, discussed needing the father of her children to help her, while Dean Reese plays a dealer who describes himself as an “entrepreneur,” and Verma is a concerned mother who asks why is rap music allowed due to its negative impact on children. To the last concern, Brother Real replies with a rhetorical question, asking why the mother can’t control what her children listen to since she is the parent after all.

It was these little moments that awed me while watching and listening. The play felt like it could have been written yesterday.

Later, while talking with Rawlings, Brother Real is haunted by his late love Jade Williams, played by Imti Hassan ‘23, who left him to work for Rawlings and then mothered his child and died during birth. 

Hassan impressed me with her facial expressions and gestures even though we were constrained by Zoom. When his character spoke to Jade, Silfa looked to his side as if Hassan were right there. The connection between the actors was there even when they weren’t beside each other. Not only did I feel the longing Brother Real had for Jade, I also sensed the tension between Brother Real and Lester Rawlings. Lester Rawlings, who speaks as if every word could be his campaign slogan, juxtaposes Brother Real’s more natural, everyday way of talking.

These differences between these characters set the audience up well for the following play. 

“Slamming The Bones,” involved two players: Dr. Noelle Chaddock, who played Detective Baker, and Professor Brian J. Evans, who played Sharky, an old classmate who Detective Baker brought in to help her find a specific person. Detective Baker is under scrutiny from the neighborhood for shooting the son of the man they are looking for.

Their conversation happens over a game of dominoes, which is referred to as “poor man’s chess.” Sharky scrutinizes Baker for becoming the person that persecuates their neighborhood while Baker explains that this was what she thought would help. 

As the game progresses Sharky asks why it is so important to find the man whose son had been shot. Baker explains that things need to be made right and that explaining the situation in which the shooting happened might help the relationship, but in response Sharky says that she should shoot her own son to make things right. 

Baker breaks down for she has never made a mistake like this. She asks Sharky rhetorically why the son was even at the house she was looking at. Sharky asks if it even matters because it wouldn’t justify his death. In short, nothing Detective Baker can do will solve anything, for it won’t bring back the man’s son. 

Before Sharky leaves, Detective Baker wonders how the neighborhood has been since she left. Sharky says that the neighborhood is able to reconcile its differences at cookouts hosted by one of the neighbors. Detective Baker is surprised by this for she didn’t think reconciliation was possible. The ending of “Slamming the Bones” demonstrates the importance of community healing and community acceptance which can happen without police involvement. 

Interestingly, “Slamming the Bones” had undergone a major change in how it was performed on MLK Day compared to when it was first written.

“The original show had two men. In revising it last year, I decided that having a female character as the detective brought out an interesting dynamic in the play that was not there when it was two men.”  

The idea of a Black female officer provides its own juxtaposition, which was felt in Chaddock’s performance. A person deemed lower by society, but due to their occupation, is seen higher. Detective Baker’s sense of pride in her job could be felt and added to the tension between her and Sharky. 

The session was recorded and Professor Odle is hopeful it will soon become available for the Bates community.