Review by Edward B. Marlowe
Michael Hagins has created the literary version of a wake-up slap in the face.
S.U.N (Shut Up Negro) in the U.S.A. is a stunning one-act work serving us the rhetoric Africans have heard and felt on the road to becoming an American, molded into a powerful closed-fist punch in our deserving faces. Each scene – interludes of the words and thoughts of each time period from the dawn of slavery until modern time – is marinated in a host of dogma about freedom and equality in America – well sorta. It is made abundantly clear that African-Americans contributed to it every step of the way, putting their lives in jeopardy but – in clever twists and turns in dialogue – don’t get to be part of it. It was this irony that distinctifies this from other works of its kind. In each sequence, they salute this country as a bastion of freedom, but Hagins deftly shows us how the African American’s exclusion in that freedom was allowed to be made justifiable – that we soothed ourselves by blaming African-Americans themselves. Interspersed with spiritual music as well as jazz and blues, the play became a parable – one we need to heed.
Hagins built in numerous history lessons by offering up speeches (quoted and created) from notable figures in bigotry to total stereotypes like three bloated buffoon KKK members, an hysterical “Karen,” and even a totally ignorant “liberal.” He also played the surreal card by putting the African American cast in white (including a bold touch of white face) and the caucasian players in black.
Stephanie Cox-Connelly staged the play with the same blunt-force for which Hagins offered up the words, allowing us to feel the impact of each scenario. Duane Ferguson uttered maybe a half-dozen words in the entire piece but his countenance – each grimace, frown, pain – registered like an earthquake when juxtaposed with the threatening, condescending, and always shocking dialogue.
The ensemble cast of actors and singers including Alex D, Kofi Mills, Gigi Principe, Michael Pichardo, Jeremy Goren, Michael Joseph Whitten, Tiffany Knight, Aaron David Kapner, Beth Griffith, Mary Sheridan, Alaina Hammond and Tucker Dally Johnston should be collectively lauded for holding the mirror up to nature so clearly. In this minefield era of cancel-culture, their bravery is exemplary.
This powerful work seems to have been designed to be a parable as – beyond its chronical content – there is no basic plotline. This does not negate its impact and – if anything, enhances – its message.
No one – repeat – no one should leave this theater without regretting every time they thought the world was a better place.
The piece was presented by the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival and stage managed by Sara Minisquero and Adam Sherwin.