At Lifeline theater, we sat intimately close to an immersive creation of a Mississippian shotgun house. The rugged wood and clanking soles of the three actresses combined with stomping music and blues-style songs created the southern landscape in which Endesha Ida Mae Holland got her start. Holland, the original writer of the script, was a civil rights activist whose tragic and cantankerous upbringing in the Jim Crow South makes her a battle-worn veteran of that era.
We witness the constant shakiness of her life, the time the shotgun house ignites in flames, the abuse she suffers at the hands of a white man, and even the pangs of the at-home birth she gives to her child. Her midwife and mother, Ain't Baby (Arielle Leverett), helps execute the birth, magically, it seems, reversing this infant from leaving feet-first to head-first by applying some alchemically charged spittle to her daughter's navel. The moment adds to the texture of this region’s culture, in this writer’s opinion, which is already made lively by the accents, the music, and the set.
Lifeline Theatre Unfolds the Rough Adventure of a Modern Hero
There was an occasion or two in which this writer was confused as to who was playing who, given that each actress played multiple characters, as well as Holland at different stages of her life. Vocal strength and energy were never lacking in any of the three portrayals. A young version of Holland springing out of bed—a wood board with a sheet—charged with ebullience and innocent hopes sows true pathos in this woman’s arc. It is obtrusively sad when this elated Holland, marveling at the sheen of a white family’s floors, soon suffers her abuse when she is a mere cheery happy-go-lucky 11-year old. In this writer’s opinion, the performance is stylistically coarse and unpolished at times, which makes it truer to Holland’s real history.
Luckily, the story shifts through a gradual trudge to a bright future. We witness the resurrection of Holland’s life when she inadvertently joins the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Holland never loses her childhood wonder, enthused and intimidated by the sleekness of northern cities, their neon lights and striped suits. The play closes with a tribute to other Black heroes of recent history just as it began with the same to the innocent boy Emmett Till. It is a weighty though rewarding journey from start to finish.
FROM THE MISSISSIPPI DELTA is a tragic, funny, and ultimately heroic story about a Civil Rights legend. Anyone interested in autobiography and American history should attend.
April 28 – June 18, 2023
Fri at 7:30pm
Sat at 2:30pm & 7:30pm
Sun at 2:30pm
6912 N. Glenwood Ave
About the Author: Anthony Neri
An avid philosophizer and Dostoevsky fanboy, Anthony spends his time ruminating on very deep moral questions. Is he a genuine old soul or does he feign as much for the mystique?--perhaps a bit of both. When he isn't tormenting himself existentially, he reads fiction and translates ancient Greek and Latin texts, all the while developing his own literary flourishes with the hope of producing his very own dazzling prose. Cliche? Maybe. But he figures everyone starts out as a cliche.