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Sound of violence: Anti-lynching play uses audio footage of Eric Garner - Brooklyn Paper

Sound of violence: Anti-lynching play uses audio footage of Eric Garner

Standing together: The New Brooklyn Theatre production of “Rachel,” a play written in 1916, draws parallels between the lynchings of that time and racially-motiveated violence happening today.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

In this play, the present haunts the past.

A Brooklyn production of a century-old anti-lynching play will use sound clips from recent killings of unarmed black men to draw links between past and present racial violence. The clips used in “Rachel,” opening on August 3 in Fort Greene, will highlight the continued prevalence of racism in a society that would like to ignore it, said the show’s director.

“People want to think racism and issues of racial identity are over, or want to pat themselves on the back because we’ve arrived,” said Courtney Harge, director of the New Brooklyn Theatre’s production. “I’m interested in revisiting old plays to see how some of the specifics have changed, but racism as a dominating structure has not changed.”

“Rachel,” written in 1916 by Angelina Weld Grimké, is about a black girl wrestling with whether or not to have children after her brother and father are lynched. In one scene, she hallucinates her future children begging her not to bring them into a world where they will suffer. That scene will feature sound clips of Eric Garner, the Gowanus native who died after police choked him and held him down, and selections from a 911 tape of Trayvon Martin, the black Florida teenager killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer.

The woman playing the show’s title character said she was inspired to take on the role by the Black Lives Matter movement, which swept social media and the streets of New York in response to the deaths of black men at the hands of police.

“I put up a Facebook post and marched here in New York City, but even that didn’t speak to the weight of what I felt and how I wanted to be a part of the healing,” said Santoya Fields, who lives in Prospect Lefferts Garden. “That’s where my job as an actor comes in.”

Fields said that she identifies with Rachel’s struggle.

“I ask myself constantly if I want to bring children into this state of affairs,” she said. “I honestly have to ask myself: Do I want to bring a child into this world, in the state that it’s in?”

“Rachel” is half of the theater company’s season highlighting work by female African-American playwrights. The other play, Lynn Nottage’s “Las Meninas,” opening August 5, is about Louis XIV’s wife and her rumored affair with an black African dwarf servant — a union that led to an ostracized child who was shipped off to a convent. The theater’s artistic director said both plays speak to the fear of bringing new life into a hostile world.

“It’s about the fear and challenges that come with bringing a black child into a world that is dominated by a white power structure,” said Jonathan Solari.

Fields hopes the productions will help spark dialogue and inspire people to take action.

“A lot of times you can go to the theatre and just forget things,” she said. “But theatre and art is also a way for us to start a conversation and to challenge views we may have had for a long time.”

“Rachel” and “Las Meninas” at the Irondale Center in Fort Greene [85 South Oxford St. between Lafayette and Green Avenues, (718) 488–9233, www.newbrooklyntheatre.com]. “Rachel” runs August 3–29. “Las Meninas” runs August 5–29. Free.

Reach reporter Allegra Hobbs at ahobbs@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8312.

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