The collective power of intimidation and fear and the effect it has on a neighborhood is explored in Past Productions Columbus’s production of Charles Fuller’s Zooman and the Sign. First performed in 1980, the play is about a family whose little girl is murdered in front of their home by a stray bullet shot by a thug (“Zooman”) known within the community. Fearing retaliation by Zooman as well as getting involved with the police, the neighbors who witnessed the murder refuse to speak up to aid the family in catching the murderer. The father, upset by the betrayal of his friends, erects a sign calling out his neighbors for standing in the way of justice.
Standouts in the cast are Demia Kandi as Rachel, the mother; Ricardo Jones as Reuben, the father; and Tony Roseboro as Emmett Tate, Reuben’s brother. Ms. Kandi and Mr. Jones are believable as a couple grieving the loss of their daughter while also struggling with their relationship. Ms. Kandi brings raw emotion in moments that quickly bubble to the surface organically, like when she talks about her daughter recently having had her first period; she begins the play almost stoic with shock, building to a finale in which she can no longer keep her feelings bottled up. Mr. Jones is solid as the father who regrets the absences from his family, but who stands unafraid of calling out the cowardice of his neighbors; he lays bare his feelings with vulnerability in a way that is rare to see in a man with such a dominant presence. Mr. Roseboro kickstarts every scene that he is in, his quips quick and often quite funny, bringing touches of humor to a deadly serious topic. The rest of the cast is good too, but it is these three performances that will compel you to sit up and pay attention.
Director Truman Winbush Jr. keeps the pace consistent, not allowing anyone to wallow too long in a moment. At under two hours with an intermission, the story has just enough time to unfold without feeling rushed or languid, and emotional histrionics are kept at bay. There is plenty of pain and heartache in this story about the senseless murder of an innocent child, but it is the fear on the part of the community and how it only serves to give power to the wrong people that is the focus. Mr. Winbush makes sure both parts of the story are being told and are clear.
By the time Zooman and the Sign reaches its inevitable conclusion, it was apparent to me that this cycle of violence has no winners, only victims. It’s hard to say at what fork in the road a different path is taken or why, but Zooman represents so many youths, then and now, who lack the empathy to see that they are part of the problem; empathy being something that they never learned to feel because they never had it given to them. Thirty-five years after it premiered, this play still has a relevant message, one of violence not being the answer to violence, and how “not wanting to get involved” only adds to the problem – and helps the wrong people. This isn’t a “black” issue, despite having an black cast and creative team; this is a human issue, and one that Past Productions Columbus should be commended for exploring in this strong production.
*** out of ****
Zooman and and the Sign continues through to November 7th in the Van Fleet Theatre within the Columbus Performing Arts Center at 549 Franklin Avenue, and more information can be found at http://pastproductionscolumbus.com/