A Different Christmas Carol- NC Arts Everyday
Salisbury native David zum Brunnen stars in Dr. Elliot Engel’s The Night Before Christmas Carol on UNC-TV, Wednesday, Dec. 22 at 10 p.m. The program, filmed on location in the State Library Room of the State Capitol Building in Raleigh brings viewers into Charles Dickens’ study on Friday, Oct. 13, 1843 to reveal his writing process and inspirations for his work. Engel, a scholar, author and playwright combines history and humor to tell the tale. View of a clip of the EbzB production at http://ebzb.org/NBCC/NBCCPromo%20July2010.mp4.
CHAPEL HILL -- The basic facts of the Emmett Till case are well known. The 14 year-old African-American was brutally beaten and murdered in 1955 on a visit to relatives in Mississippi. His white assailants deemed this appropriate punishment for Till's whistling at a white girl. The assailants, who admitted in court to kidnapping the boy but denied the murder, were acquitted of all charges.
The recent re-examinations
of the case, including documentary films and the exhumation of Till's
body for DNA testing, have shed new light on the incident, while still
leaving unanswered questions. Apex-based actor-playwright Mike Wiley
has woven these facts and questions into a riveting evening of theater,
"Dar He: The Lynching of Emmett Till." The cryptic main title becomes
devastatingly clear within the show.
Describing the production as
a one-man show is misleading, for Wiley portrays nearly two dozen
characters during the 90-minute piece: black, white, male, female,
young, old, city slicker, farm worker. The distinct differentiations of
accent, voice range, body language and characters' mindset would be
impressive enough if played one after another, but Wiley changes back
and forth in an instant, often creating the illusion that two people
are conversing. The barrage of characters is a little overwhelming at
first, but the audience adjusts as they become familiar.
avoids caricature portraying the female characters, morphing easily
into the giggling store clerk, the gregarious old aunt, the
unapologetic mother of the murderers. He also finds enough genuine
humor to give the horror some respite.
Wiley employs no changes
of costume or makeup. His sole prop is a white cloth that can become a
handkerchief, a whiskey bottle, even a headless chicken. Cigarettes,
money, a bottle of Coke, a steering wheel -- all are mimed with skilled
All of this could draw attention to the actor,
tour-de-force aspect overshadowing the subject matter. It is to Wiley's
great credit that he focuses his formidable talents on the
gut-wrenching story, allowing the audience to clearly understand each
character's strengths and foibles. His portrayal of the white
assailants is chilling, that of Till's grieving mother heart-rending.
production is extremely confident and polished, thanks to the
experienced eye of director Serena Ebhardt. There is no wasted gesture,
no extra padding. The pacing of the first act is forceful and
compelling as it leads up to the murder; the second act less so only
because the courtroom and funeral scenes are innately less intense. Ben
Davis' multimedia design enhances Wiley's projections of photos from
the period and integrates the various sound effects, from gospel choirs
The piece is hard-hitting and unsparing, the
depiction of the beating and mutilated body especially disturbing. But
that should stop no one from attending this painful but necessary
reminder of how far we've come -- and how far we still need to go -- in
race relations in this country.