The Core Theatre in Richardson consistently promotes social justice and encourages us to examine our lives in the larger context of our humanity. Their productions of Fire at the Cocoanut Grove 1942, and Our Town are just two examples. Considering that racism has once again become a topic of discussion, it’s encouraging to see they’re currently staging Behind the Cotton Curtain: Remembering Medgar Evers, a documentary play conceived, written and directed by James Hansen Prince. Set during the civil rights conflicts that shook the town of Jackson, Mississippi, Cotton Curtain begins with a number of vivid, disturbing slides depicting the history of slavery and organized racial violence, including Ku Klux Klan rallies and lynchings. These provide a context for the explosive circumstances to come. The vast majority of white folks in Jackson were not merely opposed to integration, but profoundly threatened by the idea.
Medgar Evers was an intelligent, articulate, degreed, field secretary of the NAACP and civil rights activist, involved in numerous causes, including the exoneration of Emmett Till, the integration of the University of Mississippi, boycotting gas stations, and civil protests. Evers had a gift for powerful oratory and standing up to institutions determined to enforce the status quo. It was no wonder he caught the attention of The White Citizens’ Council, an organization determined to stop African Americans in their march towards equality. The Council’s vicious methods were unconscionable (to put it kindly). Opposition culminated in the assassination of Medgar Evers on June 12th, 1963 by member Byron de la Beckwith.
Like Lee Blessing, James Prince walks the tenuous line of dealing with charged issues like terrorism and political upheaval with calm reason and keen empathy. The heroes are not saints, but their anger, in the face of horrendous violence is understandable. Prince does not soft-pedal America’s history
of abuse towards African Americans, nor does he tip the scales when we hear the pompous rhetoric of white imperialism in response to those struggling for simple equality and respect. Prince gives us enough background to understand the familial underpinnings that fueled Medgar Evers’ vigilant desire to stand up and fearlessly pursue the cause of constitutional equanimity. Cotton Curtain never comes off as didactic or incendiary, but strives to provide a balanced, reflective understanding of the tumultuous circumstances that led to death of one of America’s heroes. I urge to go to this stirring, engaging drama. And by all means, stay for the “Talk Back.”
The Core Theatre presents: Behind the Cotton Curtain: Remembering Medgar Evers, playing March 24th-April 16th, 2017 (Sunday matinees 3PM). 518 West Arapaho Road, Suite 115, Richardson, Texas 75080. 214-930-5338. www.thecoretheatre.org