Parade

Parade

Parade

In the writing and portrayal of the character of Leo Frank, are we meant  at any time to suspect that he might have committed the crimes he’s accused of and then convicted, and if so why?

Why did the creators choose to insert the chain gang scene that so powerfully grabbed the audience’s attention in the second half? And why did the director choose to end the play with the symbolic image of Leo Frank’s hanging with the African-American performers also stepping up onto the hanging “block?”

Is this  show essentially a “love story” as Keegan markets it? A show about the unequal treatment of African Americans in the shadow of the more publicized “lynching” of a Jewish man? Or a show that reveals white Southern humiliation by the loss of the Civil War and the anger all around that continues to fuel our conversation?

Why do you suppose the creative team chose to amplify all the singing in the show in such an intimate space and how did this affect your experience of the performance?

4 comments on “Parade”

  1. Bert

    The script and the performance drove home for me the terrible power of humiliation to establish a deep-seated indelible anger which knows no sense of logic or fairness in its attempt to restore pride in self and culture. The performance immediately brought to mind an alleged statement by Jeff Sessions in the 1980s to the effect that if you, as a white public defender, accepted an assignment to defend an African American, then you were a “traitor to y our race,” Hard to imagine, unless that were the only way to get elected AG in Alabama. The blurbs in the program sounded like an apology for southern racism when I first read them, but experiencing the performance I changed my mind and thought of them as merely a summarized attempt to describe a factual situation. I also couldn’t help jump in my mind to the humiliation experienced by so many hard-working Americans as a result of the 2008-09 global financial crisis and the cynical Republican success over 8 years in blocking meaningful economic stimulus, lest the resulting economic improvements reflect favorably on a black U.S. President. We are facing the fruits of that humiliation-spawned anger today, along with its epidemic distrust of professional journalism and gullibility in the face of well-financed trolling misinformation.
    It all made me ask, “What is the cure for such humiliation?” My reflexive answer was “expressions of deserved respect.” As I think about it, a second ingredient might be expressions of forgiveness in which those offering forgiveness also publicly and at the same time ask if for themselves as ones complicit in our inadequate concerns and actions regarding the same injustices to which we might hold southern whites accountable.
    The governor’s reference to “a different governor 2,000 years ago who condemned an innocent Jew” has been relevant as I turn the pages of one of our church’s pre-Easter Lenten book assignments, James Crone’s “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.” I was surprised to learn that lynching in the south (and in northern cities like Chicago, apparently) in the post-Civil War era right up to and through WWII was generally not for some alleged infraction. Instead it was a policy of random lynchings to show free Blacks “their place.” An unknown black passing through town was lynched for no reason on many occasions, just to make a point. Crone’s book tries to explain how the stories of Jesus’ crucifixion, along with the Blues, was the single most powerful source of solace for generations of terrified Blacks in the south. The musical Parade has helped me get more meaning out of this book.
    I suppose if you ignored all the fastidious workaholic characteristics revealed in early husband-wife scenes, you might wonder about testimony that Leo regularly visited houses of prostitution and “liked young girls,” you might pause for a moment. To the degree that this was effective in sowing the weakest of doubts in the audience’s mind about Leo, it helped strengthen an understanding of how the angry mob and trial participants might self-justify their anger and actions – anger and actions that somehow served as a balm to salve their humiliation and anger.
    It was interesting that Lucille (the wife’s name, right?) served as a bridge between the upright uptight Brooklynite Leo and the emotionally complex and sexually warm climate of Georgian psychology. If it was a love story, it was one of a marriage clash of civilizations. The effort at reconciliation between the couple’s two different worlds was all on her side. If it was a love story, it was one in which, for the sake of attaining the promise of a loving life together, the effort requires enormous patience in the face of petty humiliation (that word again), forgiveness for the other’s innate and uncontrollable rigidities, and steadfastness in what seem (and in this case were) insuperable obstacles to life as a couple. It certainly is not a lovey-dovey romance!
    The chain gang as part of the story fit in with the governor’s investigations and added the complex resolution of the witness’s situation – as a black accessory to the murder with less than a death sentence, but also as one who ironically was threatened with a return to the chain gang if he didn’t cooperate in delivering a perjured testimony. But in the production, the chain gang also allowed the director to use the musical talents in the company to produce a powerful testament to the deeper anger and hopeless fury of southern blacks in a world of unspeakable humiliation (that word again).
    The miking and the wall of sound was a problem for me in merely understanding the words when the whole troupe sang in chorus. It may have helped even out the different strengths and weaknesses of different voices in the company, but it seems to me that there were technical problems of how the voices were merged and questions of judgment on the part of whomever it was who set the volume levels. As someone also said in our discussion, “They’re all just practicing for Broadway.”
    Thanks Susan and Duane!

  2. Susan

    There were some stand-out performances, in particular Michael Innocenti and Eleanor Todd as the couple Leo and Lucille Frank, whose beautiful singing was matched by deeply touching acting moments. Also, Malcolm Lee as the bribed lead witness to the prosecutor and the angry chain gang leader whose voice thundered and whose in-your-face to “the man” was for me the emotional climax of the show, taking us dangerously close to where we are today.

    Might I add that some of the best moments were directorial from the duet of Coakley and Shea. Casting more African-Americans in the show and integrating their perspective, even sometimes as silent witnesses, gives this piece added richness and veracity. The staging of the last moment abandoned the idea that this is ultimately a love story between the Franks for a much bigger canvas. The bold choice of having the African-Americans step up onto the block as if to “swing” alongside Leo made the audience gasp at this symbolized multiple-lynching.

    I have only one question for the Keegan company. With the beautiful intimate venue, why oh why oh why mic everyone to the hilt? The wall of sound was unnecessary and still it only added to the current choice too many singers make to push their voices to the breaking point.

    But I want to hear again from Bert who saw the lens of this show focusing on the humiliation of the South. More, please.

  3. Martin Wittel

    Sorry I missed out on the discussion following the performance tonight–but will respond to your questions here.
    — I don’t think we ever were really meant to suspect Leo is guilty (although perhaps the sudden darkness after Mary has been paid, but before she has left the stage, might inject a measure of ambiguity. Think it simply was a scene change.)
    — Believe the chain gang scene served to address one possible response to marginalization, namely, indifference to the fate of someone who has not been marginalized (in this case, Leo, resented both due to his position prior to his arrest–and also for the support he received from the North during and after his trial.) Hostility trumped honesty when Dorsey is questioned by the governor. (The sentiments there echoed in a much harsher form those of the “silver-polishing” song that preceded the governor’s party.) As for the final image in “Parade,” perhaps it is intended to acknowledge that the vast majority of people lynched were African-American even though this piece focuses on the case of a Jewish northerner.
    — Through no fault of the performers, I don’t think this works as a “love story” since the surrounding material must overpower this aspect.
    — Perhaps amplifying the singers helped in achieving the right mix between singers and orchestra playing behind a screen…. It didn’t bother me, although I generally would prefer for singers to project (without amplification) as in olden days. But those are olden days.

    Years ago I heard a very arresting piece on NPR regarding an exhibit of postcards of lynchings–later turned into the book “Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America.” The NPR report, which described brutality which often went far beyond hanging, was chilling. That it was not unusual for lynchings to be conducted in towns, during the day, with women and children attending (and with postcards hawked to mail to friends and relations) was even more chilling. I couldn’t find audio of the particular report I’d heard, but here’s a link to a much shorter item from when the exhibit opened in Atlanta: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1142627
    As an appropriate way to end this evening, I’ll provide a link to Billie Holiday singing Abel Meeropol’s “Strange Fruit”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4ZyuULy9zs

  4. Melinda

    I think this was fundamentally a story about the South trying to maintain its dignity and importance and I take my cue from the two notes from the directors at the beginning of the program, coupled with the strong, loud (wall of sound, as one of our members said) when they sang of the red hills of Georgia. The Jews, the successful businessmen, were taking away the Christian white’ preeminence in the community through their financial success and their hiring of blacks. The Jews coming to Atlanta as a mercantile class seemed to be displacing the old Civil War “gentility.” The chain gang and the last scene illustrated the discrimination against both groups and yet the black man who was only an accessory was already on the chain gang, while the white man was still awaiting his fate.

    The play illustrated the disparate treatment of the whites and blacks in the effective first scene in the second act and the way the blacks occupied positions on the periphery

    to the extent it was to be a love story, I just don’t think it convinced me. Leo and Lucille’s passionate embrace after she had gotten his punishment stayed seemed like a sudden conversion after what had seemed a somewhat rancorous and cold marriage.

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