Monday, January 22nd, 2018

E.P. McKnight’s ‘I Question America’ performed at USM

Posted on February 24, 2011 in Arts & Culture, Theatre
By Amanda Pleau

E.P. McKnight performed a one-woman play about the story of Fannie Lou Hamer, an important player from the civil rights movement at USM on Feb. 16 in celebration of Black History Month. Hamer’s story is captivating, and although Knight’s performance was passionate at times, her writing left something to be desired.

It was well attended, but many left in the middle of the performance.

The play opened with a weird, non-spiritual version of “This Little Light of Mine.” Hamer was integral to making this gospel song an anthem to the civil rights movement, so it’s clear why the gospel hymn was used. But with the technology available today, the overdubbed monotone synthesizer recording seemed out of place for that performance and did not set the right tone. McKnight herself came out of the crowd singing and dressed in her Sunday best as an elderly Hamer.

Hamer’s story was told utilizing flashbacks, and McKnight slowed the pace by constantly reciting names and dates. These facts mights be interesting to someone with an intimate knowledge of the laws and major players of the movement, but it derailed the emotional intensity of the story.

The story took a serious turn when Hamer started explaining the opposition she encountered and the subsequent threats and violence when she attempted to register to vote. Hamer became very upset retelling the travesties she had endured and she started talking at a rapid pace. Parts of the story were lost when her speech sped up, due to the inflection McKnight put on for the play.

The most powerful moment of the play was Hamer recounting every single moment of her experience in jail to important lawmakers. She re-enacted word for word and lick for lick almost dying in that jail cell. It was intense and easy to forget that we were in a performance and not actually witnessing this speech in 1965. The pain in her voice was palpable and you could hear a pin drop in the lecture hall.

It’s difficult to comprehend how far this country has come if you hadn’t lived through that part of our nation’s history, especially now that we’ve come so far as to even have an African-American president. A woman was nearly beaten to death in order to exercise her right to vote, and it’s something that many Americans take for granted today.

Hamer’s story is incredible, but between the unintelligible rants, the distracting names and dates, and the extended cut of “I Have a Dream,” this play came short of capturing the intensity of her story in its entirety.

  • Order of operations for commenting:

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  • Anna

    What a ridiculous comment. It’s not like she is being critical of the ACTUAL civil rights movement. This article is clearly a critique of McKnight’s performance which for the most part, was positive.

    Just because it’s Black History Month doesn’t mean a journalist is supposed to ignore the bad parts of a performance. No one in history got good at what they do without receiving proper criticism. How do you explain people getting up to leave? Does that mean they’re racist?

  • J Levesque

    Skillings- While I emphatically agree that the civil rights moment is a very important time in our nation’s history, I do not believe just because a writer/artist/actor decides to approach this topic in their work we should automatically qualify the outcome as good or to be celebrated. What is under critique in this article is the play itself and not what it happens to be about. Ms. Pleau has approached her own opinion with sensitivity (giving praise to the highlights) and honesty (bad audio will always be bad, black history month or not). Maybe you should stick to commenting on articles that you’re actually capable on understanding.

  • Skillings Benjamin

    Wow, I can’t believe you would be critical of a play about the civil rights movement during black history month, let alone get away with it. “The story took a serious turn…” when it effin started. Now, I love the first amendment as much as anybody- but please stick to blogging about things you know like your relationships and punk rock. you know, shit nobody but you or your friends cares about. Thanks.