The life and untimely death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is back in the spotlight. This time, however, a positive light is being shined. On May 12, 2016, ironically the day George Zimmerman attempted to auction off the gun he used to kill Martin, the New Freedom Theatre premiered the original stage play, “The Ballad of Trayvon Martin.”
Sandra Norris Haughton, New Freedom’s executive producing director calls the play a “poetic docudrama,” which features music inspired by events surrounding the teeanger’s death. “The play documents the last seven hours in Martin’s life, his legacy, and his role in the Black Lives Matter movement,” Haughton said.
Martin was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman on Feb. 26, 2012, Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman was acquitted of murder charges because of the state’s controversial stand-your-ground law.
Written by Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj and Thomas J. Soto, this riveting story takes place in the subconscious of Martin’s mind in the last moments of his life. Maharaj said that the play is significant, “because Trayvon’s spirit and legacy will live on.”
The cast delivers outstanding performances, taking the diverse audience on an emotional journey. The play portrays Martin (Amir Randall) as a young man with aspirations, giving glimpses into the loving relationship between him and his father Tracy (Shabazz Green), and uncovering layers of mother Sybrina Fulton’s (Angel Brice) joys and sorrows.
Throughout the performance, audience members around me fought back tears, laughed out loud, or raised their hand in praise like they were taken to church. I often heard “Jesus” solemnly murmured at poignant moments. As a list of names of those killed scrolled on screen, someone in the audience, reacting to the seemingly endless numbers, said, “This is ridiculous!”
“[Actress Angel Brice’s] performance as the mother of Trayvon Martin was gut-wrenching,” said Dorothy Johnson-Speight, founder and executive director of Mothers In Charge. Johnson-Speight came with other mothers from her organization and plans to attend again. Her hope is that one day stories such as Martin’s won’t have to be told, because the tragedies will stop occurring. Until then, Mothers In Charge will continue to foster peace.
“It’s an amazing play,” William Morrison, a 19-year-old member of New Freedom’s Performing and Training Camp, said. “Not only is it an honest depiction; it gave Trayvon Martin a sense of humanity again. Since his murder, he became a symbol — he wasn’t seen of as a child who just went to the store. [This play] shows that he was a child. He had dreams and feelings that were taken away from him!”
The Ballad keeps it 100% with its integration of a social media narrative “R.I.P.ped” from the headlines, hip-hop choreography, eclectic music, poetry, staging, effective minimalist costuming and a few strategically dropped f-bombs. Audience members resoundingly felt that the play has impact and mass appeal for today’s youth. “Excellent! This is a play younger kids should come to so they can get a sense of what’s going on,” said Ms. Diane Smith, long-time North Philadelphia York Town resident. “They can see the true meaning of what’s happening to our children. It’s a play that makes you feel good about yourself.”
“It is really good! Very powerful! It affected how I think about George Zimmerman,” said Dyamune M., age 12.
“Trayvon Martin didn’t deserve to get killed by George Zimmerman,” said Dior P., age 12.
“I felt like I was in the church. Now I know more of the story — very teaching and powerful. It should go on Broadway,” said Amani J., age 13.
The world premiere was followed by a reception and cast party in the banquet hall area of the New Freedom Theatre. City Councilman David Oh presented a proclamation to directors of the New Freedom Theatre. The directors also received citations from the city. A roster of Philadelphia’s who’s who were also in attendance, among them Earl Harvey, editor of Black Professionals News; radio personality Tiffany Bacon; and Johnson-Speight. Music was provided by DJ Lady FX.
The cast members with Philadelphia ties are Amir Randall of Northwest Philly; Angel Brice, a Philly native and Temple alumna; Julian Darden a Temple alumnus; and Stanley Morrison a Franklin Learning Center student. Other stars in the production are Christopher David Roche, Shabazz Green, Michael Fegley and Donna Cherry. It is a worthwhile play for the youth to experience. I give it two hands up.
“The Ballad of Trayvon Martin” runs through May 22 at the New Freedom Theatre/John E. Allen, Jr., Theatre, 1346 N. Broad Street, in Philadelphia.