I saw the very moving and well-performed play, Song of a Man Coming Through, by Joe Morris Doss and Andrew Doss produced by the Southern Rep. It covers the true story of Earnest Knighton, who was executed in Louisiana in 1984 for the shooting death of a service station owner during an armed robbery. It is a powerful tale of redemption and the cruelty of the death penalty and the racism connected with its use in the US. The play was written by Joe Morris Doss and his son Andrew. Joe was one of Earnest's lawyers.
Robert Diago DoQui played Earnest and was a tower of strength who made a passionate case against the death penalty. Against his attorneys’ advice, Earnest gave an interview in hopes of using his life and execution as a model for kids to avoid using drugs. It is available on YouTube. Lance Nichols, who played the dentist in HBO Treme, played a fellow inmate who provided a means for dialogue on the issue Earnest faced.
I was impressed with both the message of the play and its artistry. The play made me more convinced in the evil of the death penalty. As I understand it, in Earnest's case it was not warranted, even under the laws at the time, as he did not intend to kill his victim in advance of the crime. Several others, who were white and committed worst crimes were given life in prison rather than the death penalty by the same judge and prosecutor within months of Earnest's trail. Earnest deserved a lengthy sentence or even life in prison but not death. I am very much in favor of life in prison with no possibility of parole for certain crimes. I think the guilty person should be made to do work that benefits the family of the victim and not simply live in jail. Too many times an innocent person was executed and that sentence cannot be undone.
There are a number of artistic elements that strengthen the play as a work of art. First, the play opens with members of the cast greeting the audience in the entry hall and leading them into the church that served as a theater in the round. They sing gospel songs as the audience is led in and the audience is encouraged to join in. There was a round of familiar gospel songs before the play started that provided a successful opportunity for the actors to connect with audience. Barbara Shorts, who I have seen at Jazz Fest, was one of the gospel singers, along with Brittany James. The audience was also encouraged to join in the singing throughout the play. This helped establish a connection between actors and audience.
Second, as I mentioned, the role of the fellow inmate provided means to let us know what Earnest is thinking and offers means to challenge some of his views. This exchange provides an alternative to the conversations Earnest has with his lawyers.
Thirdly, Earnest remains on stage in his cell in the theater in the round while his law team talks about him on the side lines in a bar or an office. You see him reading a book while he is being discussed and it brings home how he might think about what is being said about him, swell as some of the shallowness of the conversation.
Finally, the minimalist stage itself provides a flexible set up for many of the scenes that vary from jail to the governor's office to the Supreme Court. The actors are able to get us to believe in the real nature of each situation through their talented performances.
I highly recommend this work. November 21 was the last performance of this session but I hope it comes back soon.