This very interesting and largely forgotten story is the basis for “Selma ’65,” an intriguing but unsatisfying solo drama.
There are two large rectangular panels diagonally placed on the stage where black and white images of trees, news broadcasts, and 1960’s television commercials are projected. The heavily used music by composer Jim Hedges is extremely eerie and at times recalls the theme for “Law and Order.” The combination of these effects is so intensely moody that it is reminiscent of “The Blair Witch Project” and other horror movies. Indeed, it is later revealed that we’ve been watching memories from the afterlife.
Marietta Hedges is a very fine and capable actress but is saddled by the play’s presentational conceit. She appears in a raincoat, eyeglasses, and her head covered in a scarf as Viola Gregg. As this character, she compellingly and poignantly tells us about her life and her feelings.
Eventually she takes off the glasses and scarf, tosses the coat, puts on a white cloth mask, and is now supposed to be Tommy Rowe testifying in court about the Gregg’s murder. Ms. Hedges alternates between the two characters throughout the play. As good a performer as she is playing a man, this device becomes distracting and dilutes the power of the play.
Linking these two individuals whose fates and lives were intertwined together in a play certainly has dramatic possibilities, but having them played by the same actor, comes across here as theatrical gimmickry.
Playwright Catherine Filloux has written a very moving and informative docudrama that richly captures the sense of those times, but its effectiveness suffers from its production concept.
Eleanor Holdridge’s direction yields many haunting images, but the pacing of the testimonies of the two characters often slows down to the point of droning and tedium.
The set and projections by designer Kris Stone aesthetically creates the well-realized, somber environment that is intended. The lighting and sound design by Andrew F. Griffin and Tim Schellenbaum, respectively, also achieve the lugubrious tone the author and director desire.
“Selma ’65″‘s passionate depiction of it’s subject matter and Marietta Hedges’ worthy performance are its chief virtues.
“Selma ’65” (through October 12th, 2014)
La MaMa, 74a East 4th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 646-430-5374 or visit http://www.web.ovationtix.com
Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission