Time travel is a familiar dramatic device, but I can’t remember a Fringe show using it with such devastating effect as Black in the Box, a one-man multimedia performance artwork exploring the black experience in America. Writer-performer Marlon Burnley enters a chain-wrapped wooden trunk and emerges in 1619 as an African-American Everyman. From the slave ships and cotton fields to minstrel stages and civil rights marches, Burnley relives his ancestors’ agonies through an expressive mix of mime, mask-work, dance and sparing spoken word.
Beginning the show stripped to the waist, Burnley collects new tools (shoes, a flask, a stick and ultimately a voice) which are tragically turned against him. Burnley’s work, which was created for his MFA thesis, never settles for strident polemics, but I’ll admit I felt deeply uncomfortable watching with an all-white audience as he endured physical and emotional terrorism our feet. Was I witness to a spiritual act of racial reclamation, or complicit in yet another exploitation of black bodies?
My ambivalence about how to feel afterwards should be taken as a testament to Burnley’s brave, boundary-pushing production. His show may be…
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