Studio Theatre was filled with energy and noise last weekend from the screaming of actors, shaking chains, and the dull hum of an old hymn. “The Box,” directed by junior D’Angelo Smith, brought to life many horrors of slavery and related them to the struggles different minorities still feel in American society.
Smith created his own intriguing interpretation of the show, which was originally written for a cast of three black characters, an old black man and two white voices. Instead of casting the three black characters as black men, Smith cast one as a Jewish man, another as a Pakistani man and the third as a black woman. These modern-day characters appear unknowingly trapped in a room and are individually sent back in time by an old man to experience what it was like to be a slave.
These three characters, played by freshmen Alex Kamins, Hassan Massod and senior Shanna Collins, had high energy, becoming frantic about their entrapment. Throughout their time on stage, each character remained nervous and paranoid about what was going on, visibly upset the entire time. When they broke away for their individual experience into slavery, their paranoia became justified but their actions remained incredibly intense.
As an audience member, having each character always on edge became overwhelming, as they were always at each other’s throats and calm moments were few and far between. Perhaps that was the way it was supposed to be.
However, the moment when each character realized that he or she was a slave was supposed to be a pinnacle, yet maintained the same level of intensity as the rest of the show. If the time between those moments was played down more, I think these moments would have been more successful.
Additionally, at times, the pacing of the show seemed slow, as the characters paused between their words, leaving them plenty of room to sink in. I know this was a very dramatic production, dealing with traumatizing themes, but the show needs to move along. Perhaps the quick costume changes in the middle of a black out didn’t help, though not much could have been done about that.
Perhaps the biggest contrast came from senior Maurice McDavid, who played the old man beautifully. He stayed within the old slave’s character for the entire production, showing unwavering strength against outside forces and devastating pain as he told the stories from his past as a slave. For me, he added tenfold to the impact of what was happening and his slow and quiet style was much more effective than the utter intensity elsewhere in the production.
I do applaud Smith and the entire cast in having put together such an emotional and thought provoking production. This show explains to us how we are connected with our past in startling and important ways that we all too often forget. Those traumatic experiences were brought to life on stage — a very tough feat for a cast of any characters.