In a piece that is technically a one-man show, Ron Jones speaks for, and as, numerous African Americans. Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act ignited a social and economic transformation for the black community, and Jones plants us at the center of it. A combination of theater and documentary film, The Movement: 50 Years of Love and Struggle is an examination and exploration of how black culture has evolved, devolved, grown and shifted.
The production takes on many different forms, using a projector to show clips, pictures, sound bites, statistics, and other information about the journey of African Americans through the last half of the 20th century.
Interspersed with these segments, Jones assumes the roles of various members of the culture, a way of viewing the movement out of all sets of eyes. One of the more compelling perspectives on the dynamic of African Americans is, surprisingly, a Klan member who intuits a profound method of dealing with African Americans.
Despite taking on other groups mainly within African American society – Black Panthers, pastors, professors, and convicts among them – a narrative thread runs throughout which is referred to as “William’s story.” The show opens with William cradling his infant son as LBJ announces the passage of the Civil Rights Act, speaking softly to his child about this brief victory for their people and the hard work ahead of them. William is the only recurring character in the show, as his insight guides us along this fifty-year journey, a continuity that benefits the play because Jones shows us the black struggle on both a macro and micro scale.
The projector is heavily used, and although the pictures and graphics are intriguing, reading the information detracts from the momentum of Jones’s commentary at times. Fifty years of cultural change is difficult to condense into ninety minutes. However, the show is highly educational without feeling like a classroom, and Jones manages to convey the plight of the African American community without preaching. We are made to understand, we are not forced to.
The Movement: 50 Years of Love and Struggle
Written and performed by Ron Jones
Directed by Willette Thompson
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As a result, the play is not so much a history lesson as it is a lesson in history. Jones says this story is about where his people have been and where they are going, and he certainly delivers on that promise. African American victories and failures are not so much used to educate, as they are to elucidate the fickle nature of the American Dream and ask the question: is there an African American Dream?
Despite some of its narrative and technical shortcomings, there are some truly, unflinchingly powerful moments in the play. Jones knows this struggle because he has lived it, and the tears he sheds are real tears, adding an authenticity and sincerity to a subject that could easily be mishandled. He handles the movement with care, and moves us to care in the process.