Cahoots Theatre is back with live performances! Now under the Artistic Direction of Tanisha Taitt, their first offering is Three Ordinary Men by Steven Elliott Jackson. Based on the real-life Mississippi Burning case of 1964, Three Ordinary Men is a haunting, passionate theatrical journey. Winner of Best Play at the Hamilton Fringe in 2020, this is a poignant, evocative piece which you simply must go see.
The ambiance of the theatre space when you first enter does a fantastic job of setting up the audience for the piece to come. The southern music combined with the projection of the burning church allows us to flow seamlessly into the first scene of the play. And the use of projection throughout the play was fabulous, providing us with real photographs to contextualize the events as well as moving images to help really immerse us in their situation.
Steven Elliott Jackson did a beautiful job writing this play; he brought humanity and soul to these three “ordinary” men who were out to accomplish extraordinary things. I particularly liked the references to “To Kill a Mockingbird” and TV shows from the 60’s, it gave their conversation a sense of effortless realism. What I loved the most was the ultimate message to this play: that we have to believe in the good in others, and that if we all try to do little things to make positive change, then we’ve made our mark. Michael’s speech about this in the second act of the play was so powerful it gave me goosebumps. There are many moments of levity throughout the play and they’re so masterfully timed amongst the darker elements of the piece. Again, it gave the sense that these were real men who were friends and even though they knew what they were doing was dangerous, they still laughed and joked with one another.
Steven’s writing paired with Tanisha Taitt’s directing and dramaturgical prowess make them a creative tour de force. Her vision for this production is evident in every element and detail; a true sign of an impeccable collaboration and a deep passion for theatre and story-telling. Every aspect production worked flawlessly to provide the world in which the actors are to tell this story. Tanisha doesn’t shy away from showing the audience the harsh realities these men faced, making the production all the more stirring. There were times I felt myself holding my breath, scared for these men even though I knew their fate; I adore being that immersed in a production!
The actors portraying these three men are anything but ordinary. Tristan Claxton plays Michael (or Mickey as he’s affectionately called), the known freedom fighter who built the Freedom School in the church from the beginning of the play. Jamar Adams-Thompson plays James, a Black man from Mississippi who is working hard to fight alongside Mickey to create change in his community. And finally, Jack Copland plays Andy, a bright-eyed New Yorker who is very enthusiastic about his first trip with Mickey but has to come to grips with the reality of life in the deep south. All three actors gave downright stellar performances; their chemistry on stage together was mesmerizing. You could tell their dynamic as soon as they got in the car with one another and it was a delight to watch them go through this ordeal together and see that dynamic change. Each character goes on their own emotional journey throughout the play and each actor in his turn embodied those changes masterfully. I cannot adequately express how enthralled I was by these performances. In the final moments of the play, when their fate is truly sealed, they truly had me in tears.
While Three Ordinary Men is based on a specific historical event, it certainly left me thinking a great deal about our current social climate and how little has changed. At one point Andy and James are talking about how even though it seems like Andy would have it good being a well-off white man living in New York, being Jewish at that time came with its own set of challenges. Even though we are witnessing this piece almost exactly 58 years after the real events, Black and Jewish people (amongst many others) are still routinely being targeted by acts of hatred in our world. While we’ve thankfully progressed since that Freedom Summer, it does still prove just how much work we have left to do. But like Mickey explains, we have to keep believing in the good of others and keep trying to do good ourselves to make the world a better, more loving place.
Three Ordinary Men is brilliant in every way: the writing, performances, tech, and all. It is a great night of theatre that’ll leave you inspired. I’d recommend getting to the theatre early, as The Theatre Centre has a lovely little café where you can enjoy a drink and a snack before the show. Three Ordinary Men runs until June 26 at The Theatre Centre. You can purchase tickets at Three Ordinary Men – The Theatre Centre.
Photo is by Michael Yaneff, Foreshots Photography
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