"All Our Black Men Are Dying" performs at SMC

It’s not a rare thing for a person to be moved by a play.

It is, however, a rare thing to come out of a performance feeling emotionally touched, mentally stirred, provoked, humored, sympathetic, and, let’s face it, angry; but that’s precisely what “All Our Young Black Men Are Dying and No One Seems to Care” sets out to do.

“All Our Young Black Men Are Dying,” penned by James H. Chapman in 1989 and performed on Feb. 4 at 8 p.m. in the multi-purpose room of the Student Memorial Center, reflects on many troubling issues within both the black community and society in general. The play, called a choreopoem–a semi-transformative vein of theater wherein the actor forms an organic, almost physical relationship with the words and images of the narratives, was not created intentionally, at least not at first. Strangely enough, the work began as a suicide note Chapman wrote to his mother. When he decided against ending his own life, he made his near tragedy into a work of art to be shouted, not spoken, to the masses.

This play rages, and it rants. It damn near foams at the mouth with indignation, but it knows it; it’s supposed to. The outrage expressed by the actors and verbally injected into the audience is palpable throughout the performance, and sends a powerful message: The need for change and the desperate call for understanding.

This unabashed attitude was precisely what drew Deborah Chapman, one of three actors in the show, to participate.

“The play James Chapman has written down deals with social issues; it’s life-changing,” said Chapman, an active member of the acting community for over 15 years. “It’s real, it doesn’t gloss over things. It’s apologetically in your face and thought provoking.”

While the masculine aspects of the performance do have their gentler moments, it is the feminine element that is most soothing. As a man yells, a woman sings deeply from the heart, exhibiting comfort and love in the face of antagonism. At one point, a short blues song, likened to the resonating sorrow of the blues greats of the early twentieth century, cut into the heart of the room and affected all who listened. Where the man teems with moral outrage, the woman counters with softness and warmth.

That would be where the hope comes in.

“Even though the pieces speak to the theme, they give you hope,” Chapman said. “They cause you to think.”

This is not just a play for the African-American community; this is a play for and about society. It is expression as a weapon of change.

Rian Reed, 10-year member, 2008-2010 state president, and current president of the Millersville chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) sees the organization as a way to educate people about African-American culture and teach others to be advocates for themselves. She and the other members chose this particular play for its powerful message.

“The committee decided there are some issues in the African-American community that need to be shared with others,” Reed said, “With that concern, we decided to bring the play to teach others about the matter in a non-lecture atmosphere; we wanted to present it in a more relatable medium.”

The club wanted to communicate issues that, despite their obvious presence in reality, are not always immediately addressed.

“A lot of African-Americans and those who care about that community feel that issues dealing with the African-American male are not always taken into consideration,” Reed said.