Before the Parade Passes By…

And happy hump day in another exhausting and confusing week in the life of That’s So Jacob. It’s December, and I do not know how that happened. I suspect it had something to do with November ending. Details forthcoming.

But it’s now been two and a half weeks since I saw Parade at The Temple in Atlanta, and I thought I should write down some thoughts on it before I completely forget about it.

Parade is a quandary of a musical. It’s the story of Leo Frank, of the National Pencil Company Incident that sparked the revival of the Ku Klux Klan and the birth of the Anti-Defamation League, but it’s also the story of his wife, Lucille; the other suspect in the case, Jim Conley; and the girl whose death started it all, Mary Phagan. Just as the case is still a mystery – even though it is almost certain that Frank had nothing to do with Phagan’s death, and that Conley probably had more to do with it than previously thought – the musical does not seek to give the audience any definitive answers. In a sense, everyone is innocent, whether a victim of racial discrimination, religious discrimination, thuggery, or the law, and everyone is guilty, whether by murder, association, or merely obstructing justice.

This performance was done concert-style in the sanctuary. I sat in the second row and watched as the story unfolded in front of me. The actors carried prompt books some of the time, but they maneuvered music stands and used props to their advantage, and at times it almost seemed apropos to have the entire cast seated in chairs behind the action; there were so many witnesses, but at the same time, so few, due to the palpable silence in coming forward to defend Leo Frank.

The voices were the highlight, of course. My friend Avery performed excellently as Lucille, hitting some beautiful notes, along with the portrayers of Leo Frank and of Jim Conley, who had a particularly jazzy side to his voice that almost made the audience sympathetic to his struggle. The chorus worked together well in layering in sound; something especially difficult in a space that did not lend itself to a traditional theatrical production. They sounded downright liturgical at points, especially in the powerful moments leading into the final song, which was sung a cappella for several measures.

One point of curiosity which did not go unnoticed by myself or the cast was the usage of the Confederate flag. Avery told me that the cast, whose racial makeup ranged from white to African American to Asian American, all had different reactions to the object; seeing it, feeling it, giving it significance. I, however, feel that the usage of the Confederate flag in Parade, especially in the production’s “stripped-down” format, allowed the performers to exert control over a symbol which, in the past, has been used to control thousands of people, and for a time, an independent nation. The flag was not only used as a flag, but also as a picnic blanket, a shroud, a bed spread, and a dust rag, among many things. This allowed the audience to focus more on the object’s usage over its substance and meaning. Taking away the meaning of a symbol also strips it of its power, and when seen used to clean a floor, cover a corpse, or for the purposes of sitting and eating, it transforms the object to one of utility that happens to show a symbol rather than a beacon of hatred. The pride of the people of the South to work hard and transform themselves was evinced in this way.

The talk-back afterwards was similarly illuminating. Many cast members offered their own personal thoughts, especially in connection with their characters. Overall, it was a very spiritual experience, and a performance for which I am glad to have flown halfway across the country to see.

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