Every year, in Hollywood, a bunch of theatre people take part in The Hollywood Fringe Festival which is a copy of the original Edinburgh Fringe Festival and is supposedly a place for edgy and controversial works that would normally not be given a chance in traditional theatres. Mostly it’s a conglomeration of known small theatre groups doing Broadway jukebox style musicals of genre movies and video games, the 900th remounting of a Sam Shepard play that they can’t get their usual theatre groups to stage, and the occasional personal project. EDWARD: BLACK PSYCHO is the latter rather than the two former.
It’s a one act, one man play that tells the story of Edward James, a black man murdered by the police who tells his story; his brutal childhood, his death, and his bloody fantasy revenge on white people and the United States of America.
It’s a bold work and statement that deserves a bigger audience. It is an uncomfortable yet intersectional play that shows the conditioning of black people into compliance with the racist rules of our society that are still very much in force. One of the most affecting moments is when his stepmother gives him what is known as “the Talk”. I have read accounts of “the Talk” that black parents have with their children. The Talk is the parent explaining to the child that they need to be as compliant and non-threatening as possible around white people, especially cops if they want to live. Read that sentence again. Black people are required to be subservient to white people, especially cops so that they don’t get murdered. They have to take care to not scare them by being alive. The play and the actor, who is the author, state this plainly and it’s one of the best illustrations of how insidious this injustice is in American society. The play shows how wrong it is to expect a person to prevent another person from hurting or killing them, to make the victim responsible for the crime. It makes the point that following these racist rules is another, quieter form of slavery.
Lorne Stevenson Jr. plays Edward James with a mix of innocence, confusion, and rage. He starts out in ripped clothing in fear and graduates to the Black Panther uniform of black clothing, sunglasses, and a black beret. You see the change from a fearful and panicked person to a confident man of power who proclaims his intention on punishing the people responsible for his murder and that of so many others. He declares his intention to kill those who would kill him and his people. The framing of this act is justice and he’s not wrong. This play and powerful performance does not shy away from what that intention is: to kill white people. He does declare that allies are safe, but anyone who betrays the revolution will pay with their life. He declares safety for LGBTQ and women under those same requirements. He declares solidarity with Indigenous people. There are blackouts during which you hear the words of the great moral philosopher and revolutionary Angela Davis and sound effects of the revolt. He invokes the names of Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, and the MOVE 9. If you want to know more about the injustices this play speaks of, try looking up those names. The MOVE bombing was literally the government of the United States bombing a neighborhood in Philadelphia. Bombing our own people to keep a group of black people from asserting themselves and demanding their rights as citizens. Once you know about it, you can’t really see the world in the same way. This is the brilliance of EDWARD: BLACK PSYCHO. It is fearless in its successful attempt to break through the conditioning and refuse to be a slave anymore. To be a black man and proudly scream the truth into the void. Will this play make you uncomfortable as a white person? Yes, probably. But, frankly, you should feel uncomfortable about this subject. It’s only fair since marginalized people feel uncomfortable and fearful all their lives and sometimes die because white people can’t handle the idea of people with a different skin tone breathing nearby. Maybe if you understand why this is wrong and learn to throw away the racist conditioning, things will change.
Another powerful moment is when he changes the American flag on the wall to a flag of African pride. It’s a simple yet gruesome plot development, but it’s another proud statement of the value of black life and a black man’s self-determination. If it was done by a white man, no one would object, but a black man doing it is heresy. It is important to break the chains on your mind. Also, this is not to say that there is no humor in the play, there is, but it’s the kind that makes you question yourself for what you are laughing at.
EDWARD: BLACK PSYCHO is directed by Brittney Wheeler who is an Ovation Award-winning director and produced by Blue Vanity Productions. You have three more chances to see it at the Actor’s Company Theatre on Saturday June 22 2019 at 3:30 PM, Friday June 28 2019at 9:00 PM, and Sunday June 30 2019 at 3:00 PM. My recommendation is that you hurry to buy tickets and attend as soon as possible. Do it now. You don’t want to miss what I consider to be one of the best plays I’ve ever seen in Los Angeles.
P.S. I don’t know if this was the intention of the author, but I wonder if EDWARD: BLACK PSYCHO is a bit of reference to Edward, The Black Prince of England who won a bloody reputation as a killer at the Sack of Limoges.