‘Every 28 Hours’ Is Powerful ‘Black Lives Matter’ Theater

A lot of good is still coming out of the Black Lives Matter movement, and one clear example is Every 28 Hours.  Like the movement itself, the collective performance is part of a nationwide event created here in St. Louis, a year after the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. Your next chance to see it will be Oct 24, at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

This two-hour series of 64 very short one-minute plays looks at the fate of different black men killed by police, security guards and vigilantes in this country “every 28 hours” as the common statistic goes, but it also examines modern black life in general in light of this deadly phenomenon.  The astonishing finale “Unknown Thousands,” staged by Black Rep founder Ron Himes, is the most powerful thing I think I’ve ever seen on stage.

But far from being a harangue, this show is frequently poetic.

It’s true that the characters — written by playwrights across the nation, including many St. Louis-area authors — sometimes begin their short scenes in a state of anguish or with a stunned sense of betrayal.  And some of the mini-stories end that way instead, to devastating effect. But as often as not, the black characters are also challenged by their own flaws or by a kind of immobility at a tragic crossroads.  Good, true theater is always center-stage here.

Many of the playlets also reveal the invisible wall of white privilege, sometimes as thick as a fortress battlement, other times almost imperceptibleat least to the white character on stage.  And, in spite of the occasionally unbearable tension, there are also things to laugh about. Aaron Jafferis’ “Giving Thanks” puts a family around their Thanksgiving dinner, prompting one young man to ask (humorously) what the turkey did to get shot, while Kristoffer Diaz’ “All Ears” poses all the questions a black woman might have about urban decay to a seemingly helpful white man, who walks away when a solution is sought.

History repeats itself in unexpected ways in “Live Here,” a story of pre-1964 racial covenants in real estate, and modern “sorting,” in a script by Chelsea Gregory.  “The Tree Story” by Keith Josef Adkins pits one man against a tree removal service as he remembers his great-great-grandfather’s lynching.

So many facets of black life and history go flashing past, it’s hard to keep track of them all.  And while your local policeman is never vilified, the whole question of racial identity and racial profiling by all Americans, of all races, is constantly in play.

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