Messiah at Stratford Circus Arts Centre
Messiah is Bear Trap Theatre’s tribute to Fred Hampton, the 21-year-old political activist and Black Panther Party member who was assassinated by the hands of Chicago Police during a raid in his apartment, on 4th December 1969. Hampton made a big impact in the community with his social interventions and by inciting a revolution. The play aims to introduce this charismatic figure in a three-dimensional way and not merely focus on his assassination and political stand.
A cast of four move around a bare stage, marked only by lines of white tape stuck on the floor to delineate the borders of the rooms inside Fred’s apartment. A cross of red tape indicates the location where his body was found. Hampton is shown at home with his heavily pregnant girlfriend Deborah Johnson and the lively William O’Neal, head of Black Panther security. Scenes of family life surrounding the tragic central incident help define the characters and add another dynamic beside the social debate.
The piece goes on to recount the details of the assassination based on original reports and evidence. The events of that night are told from two different perspectives: that of the Panthers and that of a police sergeant who participated in the raid. In a fictional addition based on his speeches, Fred is given a chance to voice his views after his death and confront those who killed him.
Writers Paula B Stanic and Jesse Briton also make space for some humour, mostly expressed during a scene where Fred and Deborah act out a family sketch based on stereotypes, embodying the cliched traits and behaviours that some may attribute to them. The four actors deliver solid performances throughout and the fact that they devised the play during rehearsals, based on their thorough research of the subject, shows in the way they become one with their respective characters.
The play brings up a topic that is at the centre of many a current debate, namely race, but it doesn’t dig much deeper than merely stating the problem. The story is certainly worthy of being told, but in spite of all the strong elements that compose the production, the narrative somehow fails to be captivating, falling short of fulfilling its potential to stir emotions or add a fresh contribution to a hot topic.
Photos: Paul Blakemore
Messiah is at Stratford Circus Arts Centre from 27th November until 30th November 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.