|Photo courtesy of Pan-African Theatre Ensemble Instagram: @thepate.ksu

‘The Purple Flower:’ A Critical Review 

  • Overall 7/10 70%

The Facts

Play: “The Purple Flower”

Author: Marita O. Bonner

Director: Amy-Rose Forbes-Erickson

Theatre: African Community Theatre

Theatre Company: Pan-African Theatre Ensemble

Performance Dates: March 8 – 11, 2018

Run Time: 45 minutes

Words by Ashlynn Thompson 

This surrealist one-act play is divided into two sets of characters: the “White Devils,” who live on the hill where the titular purple flower grows, and the “Us’s,” who slave endlessly for the White Devils. The Us’s make several attempts to get to the purple flower, but the White Devils knock them back down again and again. The Purple Flower is a clear satire of race relations and protest against white supremacy, as symbolism and metaphors pervade the entire show.

  • Directorial Concept 8/10 80%

Directorial Concept

In order to achieve the main theme of the struggle against white supremacy, Forbes-Erickson uses repetition of dialogue and narration and sets the play in present day to emphasize the cyclical nature of this struggle. While the directorial concept is very distinctive, the use of repetition becomes quite excessive. A large part of the lines and scenes are repeated at least three times, which also contributes to the slow pace of the show. It is unfortunate that the use of repetition, in order for viewers to see the symbolism and nuances of the play, is overused to the point that the subtleties may actually be lost on some. It would have been more effective to incorporate this method only at the most crucial points of the production for the subtleties and meaning to really sink in with the audience.

The surrealist nature of the work is evidenced by the dream-like staging of the set and actors’ movements. Playful White Devil masks with eyes that change colors hang from the ceiling, and the actors walk with exaggerated and slow movements. This was a unique touch that enhanced the production.

  • Elements of Production 10/10 100%

Elements of Production

As a whole, all elements of productions supported the theme and did justice to the piece. The set design is playful and colorful, which draws attention to the dream state of the show. A hill set piece where a large purple flower rests at the top is a focal point on the stage in order to showcase the epic struggle between the Us’s who desperately try to reach the flower, but are cast down time and time again by the White Devils, a clear metaphor for the struggle for black equality that has lasted centuries. In true Dr. Forbes-Erickson fashion, digital media is used to display thorns, which play on a loop, that grow to fill the screen and then shrink and finally disappear. This can be interpreted to represent yet another obstacle that the Us’s must overcome to reach the purple flower.

The costumes are one of the best parts of the show and blatantly emphasize the theme. Each cast member wears a black shirt that reads, “Fuck White Supremacy” in bold white letters. A very bold statement for a very bold work.

  • The Acting 6/10 60%

The Acting

The actors really struggled with the memorization and delivery of their lines. In the opening scene, the two actors literally read the narration from their scripts with a very mechanical-sounding delivery, like the voice you get when your teacher unexpectedly calls on you to read a passage from a textbook aloud in class. As a result, the compelling and evocative story of a woman’s decision to get an abortion almost completely loses its power, which is not ideal for the scene that sets the tone for the rest of the show. The actors may have tried their best, but it was not enough to give the passion and authenticity needed for the subject matter.

  • Worth Seeing 7/10 70%

Why This is Worth Seeing

The African Community Theatre always puts on distinctive productions, and The Purple Flower is no exception. This play should be seen for its unique and nuanced writing, themes and elements of production. As a whole, the symbolic nature and subtleties of the production express how the actions of white supremacists and the legacy of white supremacy have historically obstructed and blocked blacks from achieving civil rights through lynching, disenfranchisement and terrorism. The purple flower itself can be interpreted in many ways and may represent the height of human potential or all the things blacks have been denied over the centuries, including, but not limited to, equal and quality education, health care and housing.

That being said, the acting is definitely not the best The African Community Theatre has to offer, and it is a little slow at times because of the overuse of repetition. Overall, The Purple Flower makes you think and provides a refreshing break from the more recognized plays and musicals that have little more than cliché meanings and themes to offer.