K.W. Kuchar’s ten/thirtyfour – the title derives from the police code for “riot in progress” – aspires to describe the aftermath in Washington of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. Kuchar tries to adopt the documentary style of Moises Kaufman’s The Laramie Project or Anna Deavere Smith’s Fires in the Mirror, and, to a certain extent, succeeds.
Using a combination of real historical figures – Stokely Carmichael, Bobby Kennedy, Sterling Tucker, H. Rap Brown, Leonard Downie Jr. (whose work on the riots guided the construction of the play), and the like – fiction, news clips from the time (projected onto the background) and reporting by actors recreating the newscasts of the period, ten/thirtyfour does a good job of portraying the anxiety of a time in which racial violence had the potential to crack the core of this Republic. Kuchar has done serious research, and the play reflects its results.
The problem is that we know how the story ends. The Laramie Project succeeds because we learn something during the course of the play: Kaufman’s investigators, visiting the home town of a murdered gay man, expect to see a homophobe’s paradise. Instead, they discover the bell-shaped curve: a town full of sweet, non-judgmental, generous people who generally accept gay people, along with a few homophobes. In Ten/thirtyfour, on the other hand, we generally see what we expect to see. Kuchar attempts to add suspense by superimposing the story of Josh (Assoumon Diby), an African-American teenager who lives with his mom (Crystal Marie Grant) and has a Caucasian girlfriend (Elizabeth Rudin). Once the riots start, Josh skates awfully close to the fire, but Kuchar doesn’t develop enough of a backstory to engage the audience in his dilemma. Josh’s principal ambition appears to be to pick up cool stuff from looted stores, and so it is hard to develop rooting interest for him.
Although the principal subject of the play is the riots in Washington, we spend a great deal of time reviewing the pre-assassination riots in Detroit, Newark and Los Angeles. This diffusion of focus does not help to engage the audience, either. It is necessary to place the Washington riots in context, of course, but when the historical background threatens to eat the play, you’ve gone too far.
The production itself could also use some work. Blair Galiber is strong as the narrator; Anthony Carrell is fabulous as H. Rap Brown delivering a rageful letter from prison; and Joseph Randazzo does serviceable turns as Kennedy and Downie, but in general the cast is not helpful. Several folks have trouble with the lines; when they are delivered intact the actors sometimes have difficulty maintaining eye contact or sounding authentic. The technical side also needs improvement. In the show I saw Stokely Carmichael slammed the receiver down on the pay phone, knocking it from the wall. I realize that you can’t recreate a sturdy village on stage with a typical Fringe production budget, but situations like this call for sensible adjustments: try a table phone instead.
Kuchar has taken on an important subject – one that deserves to be recalled and examined. As he continues to work on his text – which I hope he will – he might consider adding more insight and suspense. For example, there is almost nothing in the script about the causes of Black rage. Remember, this was the period immediately following the passage of the Civil Rights Bill, the repeal of the poll tax, and the launching of the War on Poverty. The ensuing violent strife came as a surprise to many white folks. Ten/thirtyfour gives us the picture from one side of the mirror; some day, I hope, it will let us look from both sides.
Written, Produced and Directed by K.W. Kuchar
Reviewed by Tim Treanor
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