More than a half century after the Freedom Summer of 1964 in Mississippi, memories of that turbulent time exist only in history’s accounts for many. But events of that summer were more than an accumulation of hard facts. Each fact affected a family. Just how deeply is explored in the Columbus Community Theatre’s production of “The Left Hand Singing” March 10-12. The play by Barbara LeBow is the story of three families brought together by youthful ideals, and then terrible tragedy. It reveals how familial and political pressure can turn young people into activists and set in motion events that turn “normal” inside out.
“This is a historical fiction that tells the stories of three college kids who make the decision to travel down to Mississippi to help with voter registration for Freedom Summer,” said the play’s director, Melanie Hintz. The students vanish, seemingly without a trace. They are later discovered murdered, and their parents are inexorably linked, heirs to their children’s fateful decision. The journey brings the families together in a lifelong search for answers, peace and reconciliation.
Described as a moving and thoughtful drama, “The Left Hand Singing” introduces audiences to Linda Winnick, a naive Jewish college sophomore from New York City, played by Kathryn Hintz; Honey Johnson, an experience-toughened black college student from Opelika, Alabama, portrayed by Morgan Jones; and Wes Partridge, earnest college student and preacher’s son from Charlotte, North Carolina, played by Jesse Duncan.
The play opens in a college dorm room in Upstate New York, where Partridge is organizing the group and trying to convince Winnick and Johnson to join.
Throughout the play, scenes from the past are juxtaposed with scenes from the “present,” as the students’ parents develop relationships as a result of their shared grief.
Hintz wants audiences to feel the energy and purpose the students experience in their calling to help a cause. The actors seem to be finding something of themselves in their characters, she said.
“They’ve done a good job of bringing art to life — and this is actually history to life,” remarked the experienced director.
Columbus High School 10th-grader Morgan Jones portrays the sassy Honey Johnson. She hopes her peers will attend the play; she feels it’s important.
“I kinda knew (about Freedom Summer), but acting in it and being a part of this really does get you thinking,” said the young actress, whose mother and younger brother helped her run lines at home.
Ashley Gressett of Columbus portrays Bea Winnick, the mother of Linda, who goes missing.
“I start the play in my 40s, and by the end of it I’m in my 70s,” said Gressett who is experimenting with makeup for aging. She finds the play a powerful one, so much so that the first read-through caused her to tear up. The actors want the audience to feel the impact as well.
The cast also includes Heather Box, Adrienne Cockrell, Douglas Cockrell and Daniel Talley.
The play contains some mild language, said Hintz. “But for those who have been separated from that period of history, it’s very educational,” she continued, saying that older youth could learn something of Freedom Summer from it.
How to go
Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., plus a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday at the Columbus Arts Council’s Rosenzweig Arts Center Omnova Theatre at 501 Main St. Tickets are $10 in advance; $12 at the door. Get them at the arts center, online at columubus-arts.org or by calling the CAC, 662-328-2787.
The play is presented by Columbus Community Theatre and the Columbus Arts Council and produced by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service Inc. of New York. It is made possible, in part, by support from the Mississippi Humanities Council and the Mississippi Arts Commission.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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