The trauma of racism haunts Rogue Machine’s powerful “Gunshot Medley”

By Angie Fiedler Sutton

Three ghosts struggle to comprehend the violence that destroyed their lives in ‘Gunshot Medley’
Photos by Dionna Michelle Daniel

Rogue Machine’s revival of “Gunshot Medley: Part 1” is a haunting look at how the ghosts of racism are not — and have never been — fully buried. Taking place in “the hereafter” of a haunted North Carolina graveyard, the play follows Betty (Mildred Marie Langford), Alvis (Derek Jackson) and George (Donathan Walters) as they exist in a sort of purgatory — not quite passing on to the other side, but not quite understanding how they got there, either.

It is interspersed with songs, sometimes gloriously sung by the High Priestess (Sha’Leah Nikole Stubblefield). There is a band onstage, but shadowlit, adding to the ghostly feel of the simple but effective set that looks like the back of a log cabin.

The three characters, but primarily Betty, deal with the “gunshot medley” of violence and trauma of their past lives. Each of them cope with their past in different ways. Betty tries to bury it, while Alvis tries to ignore it, and George keeps trying to go back and fix it.

It is a powerful piece, the gunshots throughout accentuating the plot almost like another song. It is painfully beautiful to watch, and Langford especially handles her part with an internalized nobility that brings sympathy and awareness. The direction by Desean Kevin Terry is tight, with not a moment wasted as the audience is forced to deal with recognizing the violence that is just an everyday matter for many people today.

This issue is, unfortunately, one that is still desperately needed: just look at the day’s headlines to see how racism is still front and center. “Gunshot Medley” is one of those pieces that shows the power of theater, but alas it’s doubtful that the people who need this message would go see this show. One of the key scenes is when Alvis brings Betty a Confederate flag and notes how it’s a new one. Having grown up in the Midwest, the fact that people still revere that flag is not a shock to me, but it obviously was for many in the audience. As Alvis says, “The Stars and Stripes just the rebel flag with make-up on her face.”

However, the play ends on a bit of hope: that these ghosts — names such as Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, and more — are not forgotten, but that this is not “a mess for [them] to clean up.”

“Gunshot Medley: Part I” continues at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturday and at various times on Sundays through Aug. 11 at the Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice. Tickets are $25 to $40, or $10 on Friday, July 26. Call (855) 585-5185 or visit roguemachinetheatre.net.

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