“Facing Our Truth: Short Plays on Trayvon, Race, and Privilege” explored themes of racial injustice and what the trauma of growing up black in America looks like, with an audience and actor “talk-back” panel following each performance.
The theater department held a showing at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, with an artist talk-back panel led by Ebony Williams, assistant director of the Academic Success Center, following the show.
Through a series of five different scenes, the play traverses through various themes such as the racially implicated conversations held between husband and wife, mother and son, and even between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin.
The first scene had the audience jump right into an intimate, heated discussion between husband Ezra, played by sophomore political science major Casemi Simmon, and wife Ayanna, played by junior psychology and theater major Shyonta Glothon.
The two went back and forth, disagreeing on what they may have witnessed in the street that led to a phone call made to the police, and the possible implications the phone call may have placed upon any person of color out on the streets following the report.
The second scene showcased three young high school friends, Owen, played by freshman theatre major Nick Mclean, Elissa, played by Glothon, and Andre, played by Upland High School student Tyrone Jefferies.
Through trivial conversations over young love and pokes at going away to college, the three had their own individual monologues as the scene progressed.
Maintaining a fairly lighthearted air, the scene takes a detrimental turn once Andre leaves to take a walk to the liquor store. The scene ends with a teary-eyed Owen and Elissa as they faced the audience with Elissa holding up the word power in one hand.
Following this scene, “The Ballad of George Zimmerman” was next, with senior psychology major Neena Diaz playing Zimmerman and Simmon playing Martin.
The audience followed the two as they circled each other around the stage acting out the moments before Trayvon’s death.
Diaz’s stalk around the stage was menacing as the two could be heard saying back to one another “one of us is going to die tonight.”
As the scene came to an end, Simmons spine-chilling screams as Trayvon could be heard throughout the entire theater before Diaz’ heartless performance as Zimmerman could be seen receiving the same murder weapon back from a fully clothed police officer.
The penultimate scene featured Misty Levingston, assistant director of multicultural affairs, as the mother of a son played by senior theater major Marcus Young.
Having several parts to the scene, the first began with her nagging, as most mothers do, about the way her son dresses.
She wanted him to pick up his sagging jeans and wear the button up shirts she bought for him so that the world could see him in a better light.
The second part was in regards to her receiving a phone call, where she gave a monologue focusing on child birth, and what it was like to be a mother who had to learn to leave her son on his own in order to allow for growth.
The last part of the scene showed Levingston placing her son’s clothes into a large, black trash bag as she tells the audience the way in which she would move his button up shirts to the front of his closet in an attempt to push him toward wearing those clothes.
Throughout the monologue, she heavily mentioned themes of black bodies being the most vulnerable, despite the way you dress them.
The last scene merged comedic relief with a much heavier tone of racism as Julieta Del Toro, freshman communications and theatre major, played Rebecca, a young, oblivious white girl suffering from “negroiphobia,” as prescribed by her doctor played by Jon Carter.
Through denial and excuses such as “but my neighbor is black,” the doctor offered Rebecca a cure-all to her condition: a black hoodie, sagging jeans and a fresh pair of Timberlands.
Once Rebecca put on the clothing, she was no longer herself but rather a young black man named Rahim.
As the scene shifted from Rebecca to Rahim, the audience was taken through various scenarios such as conversations between him and his grandmother, a situation with a drug dealer, and a part in which a black-robed Klansman was lurking through the shadows and following him around at night.
By the end of the scene, Rahim was seen yelling through the voice of Rebecca “I’m not black, I’m a white.”
Del Toro’s portrayal of Rahim and Rebecca adequately portrayed the vast differences between being born white and being born black.
As Williams led the audience through the talk-back panel discussion, one audience member commended the contrast between Rebecca and Rahim that Del Toro was able to portray, asking how she was able to prepare for such a role in the process.
“It was a lot of trial and error to make Rahim possible. I think the hardest part about playing Rahim was having to get shot and having to portray that fear because I know for a fact that is not one of the fears I have today, or ever,” Del Toro said.
“Those screams weren’t mine; they weren’t Rahim’s, they were me feeling for all of my friends and family who would go through that. I’m screaming on behalf of ‘what if’ rather than what it was,” she added.
Another audience member questioned the actors on whether or not their involvement in the play shifted their thoughts on the issue.
Mclean, who played Owen, mentioned that the play really put into perspective the fact that it is not enough to simply just believe that racism is wrong.
“It helped me understand that you have to stand up, you can’t just say racism is bad, but you have to actually stop it. You have to go to your friends, get everyone in your life to say ‘let’s not be racist, we all have to be against racism,’” Mclean said.
“Julieta did an amazing job at capturing that in the beginning of the last scene it was like, ‘I voted for Obama, that’s not racist,’ that’s like saying because you’re eating a cheeseburger, world hunger doesn’t exist,” he added.
Levingston mentioned the play hit home for her as she is a mother and has gone through conversations with her own daughter similar to the ones in the scene she acted out with Young.
“Being black in America and how to act accordingly to save you. Is it right that somebody is profiling you? Absolutely not, but do I need you to come home? Absolutely. We can fight the injustices after the fact, just get home,” Levingston said. “It really resonated with me.”
Simmon, who played Ezra and Trayvon, added that the play helped him and the rest of the actors acknowledge their own implicit biases coming in. Having grown up in southeast San Diego, Simmon mentioned he comes from a black family affiliated with gangs.
“I was never taught to associate with white people. I have my own stigmas, my own biases against them, and I noticed coming into this environment they had it back at me. I was pointing my finger at them like, ‘yeah I can’t associate myself with them,’ but they were pointing the same finger back at me,” Simmon said.
“When we get down to the nitty-gritty, we’re all people. If we’re able to change just one person’s mindset and have them understand that ‘you’re not alone, it doesn’t matter who you are we’re there for you,’ I think that will carry us to the next steps of a better generation and better direction,” he added.
The last performances of the play will be held at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with a matinée showing at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Jocelyn Arceo can be reached at email@example.com.