Erik Ehn\'s <em>Diamond Dick: The Tulsa Race Riots of 1921</em>&nbsp;at Project X: Theatre

Review: Diamond Dick: The Tulsa Race Riots of 1921 | Project X: Theatre | The Green Zone

Docudrama With a Punch

At Project X: Theatre, Erik Ehn's Diamond Dick: The Tulsa Race Riots of 1921 is powerful storytelling.

published Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Photo: Boleyn Photography
Erik Ehn's Diamond Dick: The Tulsa Race Riots of 1921 at Project X: Theatre



You can't understand what someone else is going through until you've walked a mile in their shoes, so the saying goes. And while it would be unfair to suggest that any group of humans can relate to what happened to a black community in Tulsa, Oklahoma around Memorial Day in 1921, Erik Ehn's play Diamond Dick: The Tulsa Race Riots of 1921 does a remarkable job of not just telling us an unfamiliar story, but of giving it dramatic heft and using conventional physical theater techniques in a fresh way.

It stirs emotions from sorrow to anger, and keeps the audience engaged throughout its 70 minutes. Simply put, it's powerful theater.

The show is one of four plays dealing with the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 in Ehn's ambitious 17-play cycle Soulographie: Our Genocides. It's receiving a world premiere at Project X: Theatre, directed by Raphael Parry, who was a frequent Ehn collaborator in his days at Undermain Theatre. All 17 of the plays (Ehn says the cycle will eventually include more plays) will be presented in a festival at New York City's La Mama in November. The plays deal with an aspect of a genocide in which American policy was attached in some way; attempts not only to kill a specific group of people but to wipe out memory of them, in places such as Rwanda, El Salvador and Bosnia.

Using text, live music, pantomime, object puppetry and the most simple but effective use of video that a Dallas theater has yet managed, Diamond Dick tells the story of the title character, shoeshine boy Dick Rowland (played by Walter White), a black man who was accused by white woman Sarah Page (Jenni Pittman) of trying to rape her in Tulsa in 1921.

That led to talk of lynching, then counter-protests from the black community and, on June 1, a riot by Caucasians that resulted in the torching and destruction of many blocks in a black middle class section of town called Black Wall Street. According to the documentary-like retelling by the characters in Ehn's play, the rioters included members of the National Guard, War War I veterans and other military and law enforcement officials. Many were killed and injured, and black survivors were put in prison as if internment camps.

How could Americans turn so violently on the fellow inhabitants of its land, citizens even? It wasn't the first time, nor the last. While Ehn doesn't attempt to answer that question, he presents us with human faces and stories in a tragic episode of our history.

The section of the play dealing with the aftermath of the riot is what punches you in the gut, but Ehn smartly sets up the event by offering some context into the race situation in the town and the state before this event. Many in the black community had moved there from the Deep South because lynching was still a common occurrence in states like Alabama. Turns out, the noose—rope is a functional tool and ominous visual symbol on Jeffrey Schmidt's set, which could be like the backstage of an entertainment of that erawasn't avoidable in the plains, either.

Dennis Raveneau, Jamal Sterling, Rhonda Boutté and Stormi Demerson play various characters, and Ehn gives us affecting human stories, such as when a young girl played by Boutté recounts the tragedy when the movie theater she was in was burned. This Dreamland, this house of escape, turned out to be neither.

Jenni Pittman and Schmidt play the white characters, and Newton Pittman, in a role called "Sandman," plays an original soundtrack at stage right and offers brief narration and announcements of scenes.

Adding to the feel of a documentary, one that Ken Burns would be proud of, other performers and community members, including Vicki Meek, T.A. Taylor, Marcus Maudlin and Buster Spiller, were filmed in period costume and offer additional perspective in the video segments.

There's an occassional anachronism, such as when the cast sings "It Ain't Necessarily So" from Porgy and Bess (which wasn't written until the 1930s), but a story of this magnitude transcends time and place. Ehn, Parry and this cast have given us some theatrical shoes in which we can try to comprehend a part of American history that some would prefer be buried.


» Read Mark Lowry's intrerview with Erik Ehn hereThanks For Reading

Click or Swipe to close
Docudrama With a Punch
At Project X: Theatre, Erik Ehn's Diamond Dick: The Tulsa Race Riots of 1921 is powerful storytelling.
by Mark Lowry

Share this article on Facebook
Tweet this article
Share this article on Google+
Share this article via email
Click or Swipe to close
views on theater, dance, classical music, opera and comedy performances
news & notes
reports from the local performing arts scene
features & interviews
who and what are moving and shaking in the performing arts scene
season announcements
keep up with the arts groups' upcoming seasons
listen to interviews with people in the local performing arts scene
media reviews
reviews and stories on performing arts-related film, TV, recordings and books
arts organizations
learn more about the local producing and presenting arts groups
performance venues
learn more about the theaters and spaces where the arts happen
keep up with fabulous ticket giveaways and other promotions
connect to local arts crowdfunding campaigns
post or view auditions and performing arts-related classes, services, jobs and more
about us
info on TheaterJones, our staff, what we do and how to contact us
Click or Swipe to close
First Name:
Last Name:
Date of Birth:
ZIP Code:
Your Email Address:
Click or Swipe to close
Join TheaterJones Around the Web

Follow Us on Twitter

Subscribe to our Youtube Channel

Click or Swipe to close
Search the TheaterJones Archives
Use any or all of the options below to search through all of reviews, interviews, features and special sections. If you are looking for a an event, use the calendar section of this website. This search will not search through the calendar.
Article Title Search:

Description Search:
TheaterJones Contributor:

TheaterJones Section:

Showing on or after:      Showing on or before:  
Click or Swipe to close
We welcome your comments

I am discussing:  

Your Name:
Your Email Adress:

please enter the text below and then click or tap SUBMIT :