[Written by Rajai Denbrook and Rennika Trott] It’s not often that you have the privilege of experiencing a piece of theatre where the story is not only that deserves to be told over and over, but where the cast is not only talented enough to tell it, but their depth of care for the story is so obvious that it only serves to inspire their performances, and the quality of the piece therein.
The Black Gents of Hollywood did just this with their production of Black Angels over Tuskegee with this year’s Bermuda Festival.
The eight strong ensemble cast invited the audience into an evening that served as an inspiring reminder of the power of art and theatre as they told the story of six of the Tuskegee airmen: six very different African-American men alive during World War Two, bonded by one absurd aspiration, to defy any number of obstacles and train to be fighter pilots to defend their home country, and indeed, help save the world.
In the audience, you couldn’t help but feel that you were a part, at least vaguely, of a very important passing on of knowledge, the importance of that knowledge becoming more and more self-evident as the story unfolded, the play finally revealing itself to be just that, a son of one of the airmen reading from his father’s diary to his son, so that he knew the legacy that he was a part of.
The play began with the cast quickly establishing itself as a strong and soulful ensemble: six talented actors who obviously loved each other thoroughly, and cared deeply for the story they were telling together.
Layon Gray definitely fulfilled his aim of “creating conversation dialogue in his works”, with an exceptionally well-written script, which allowed the performers to enjoy a serious sense of artistic generosity, which allowed them to allow their characters to simply exist and exist fully.
As if the ghosts of their recent ancestors were with them in their performances, the cast brought to life each character, with each other, as if he knew them and their trials intimately.
Despite being told that they could not because they were not smart enough and the fact that they simply were not wanted, the men had committed themselves to serving their country and passed their entrance exam in Utah, and went on train at Tuskegee where they continued to endure policies of segregation not only there but also in North Africa where they eventually were stationed, to become some of the most skilled and feared bomber escorts, painting their planes red to let enemies know who they were.
Forty-three men trained in Tuskegee with them, only six, them, went on to receive their wings.
It is difficult to pinpoint any outstanding performances, so these reviewers won’t attempt, but they will say that each actor played an essential role in telling a very important story and they each did it with equal sensitivity, skill, and respect for the piece.
Tastefully, though not patronizingly, handling relevant issues stemming from race, the very mixed audience in attendance received an important and inspiring education on the journey of six audacious men, and the contemporary relevance of their tenacity in spite of everything stacked against them.
The Black Gents of Hollywood are a “group [that] seeks to establish a public platform of expression for actors, writers and directors who take social responsibility in redefining the image of the black male persons through relevant and educational entertainment”, and they did just this, with soul, talent, and intelligence with their production of Black Angels over Tuskegee.