Produced and Directed by Jackie Taylor
At Black Ensemble Theater, Chicago
History lives in realistic courtroom drama
In their ever-expanding theatrical experiences, Black Ensemble Theater has now mounted their first new drama in many years. Playwright Ervin Gardner has penned a non-singing musical drama: The Trial of Moses “Fleetwood” Walker. This touching story about the first black man to play baseball in the Major Leagues – for the Toledo Blue Stocking in 1884. Yes, it was not Jackie Robinson but Moses Fleetwood Walker who pioneered the racial divide in baseball. Walker was quite the hero and quite wealthy. But his freedom and celebrity was challenged when in Syracuse, New York in 1891 after his playing days, he was accused of 2nd Degree Murder for killing a white man.
In a rivetingly dramatic courtroom drama underscored with chamber music (written by Jackie Taylor), we witness the trial fairly judged and manically prosecuted and cleverly defended toward an unexpected verdict from an all-white male jury. The two galleries – one for white and one for blacks contain an assortment of young white liberals and a ‘good-old-boy racist from Alabama. The black gallery finds two optimist and one cynical pessimist
One of the harsh truths is that in 1891 for a black man accused of murdering a white man to actually escape a lynching and stand trial was remarkable. And to get a fair trial was even more remarkable. The cast of 19 actors emotionally played the biases of their times. We witness the extreme racism of the local heavy drinking white men, the vigorous white precursors contrasted by the classy, calm, confident Moses Walker (Andre Teamor). his emotional wife and his social activist brother Weldy Walker (Tamarus Harwell) depict middle class values.
The courtroom exchanges are tough to stomach yet they set the tone for the surprising verdict. Nick Ferrin is terrific as Harrison Hoyt, Walker’s clever defense attorney while T.E. Hancock ( Jack Birdwell) was the extremely racist prosecutor. The entire cast was motivated to tell the racial-charged story was vigor and heart. This strong true story speaks directly to the mission of the Black Ensemble Theater – to eradicate racism. This play’s message of hope and possibility for society to finally start a dialogue about race in America. The Trial of Moses Fleetwood Walker is a brave, honest, and powerful drama designed to get all of us facing the race problem. It is also a suspenseful engaging drama and wonderful theatre. Kudos to Black Ensemble for mounting this important work.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: February 15, 2015
For more info checkout the Trial of Moses Fleetwood Walker page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Black Ensemble Theater, 4450 N. Clark, Chicago, IL, call 773-769-4451, www.blackensemble.org, tickets $55 – $65, Thursdays at 7:20 pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8pm, Sundays at 3pm, running time is 2 hours, 25 minutes, through March 15m 2015