GRAVEYARD SHIFT: A Love Story that was Lost in Translation


On July 13, 2015, the headline story featured a 28-year-old black activist name Sandra Bland from Illinois; she was found hanged in Waller County, Texas, in a jail cell; after three days of being arrested during a pretextual traffic stop. Bland's automobile was stopped on July 10, 2015, by State Trooper Brian Encinia because of a minor infringement.

The world saw the questionable arrest partially recorded by Encinia's dashcam, a bystander's cell phone, and Bland's cell phone. Five years after this 'minor traffic violation took place, questions surrounding her death continue to resurface, as many seek some form of justice. Bland's death, ruled a suicide, has troubled many that knew her. The incident enraged the community and protesters that were against her arrest, disputed the cause of death, and alleged it was racial violence against her.

The world premiere of 'Graveyard Shift' at Goodman Theatre shines a light on the racial tension that is plaguing our nation. Straight from the headlines, the critical piece of work, written by playwright Korde Arrington Tuttle, touches on the dual lives of Sandra and the cop involved in her arrest. The legacy of Sandra Bland loosely inspires this purposeful story. However, Tuttle doesn't make any attempt to refabricate Bland's character or her life story. He allows us to see the emotional depth of the harsh realities in a world filled with lots of trepidation. The fictionalized play entwines the truth with urban poetic dialogue and rhythm, where senseless bigotry is all too common at the hands of a policeman.

Set in Chicago and Texas is where we meet Janelle (Anisa J. Hicks), who just received the opportunity of a lifetime, which allowed her to relocate from Illinois to Texas to work at Prairie View A&M University and to move in with her fiancé Kane (Debo Balogun). Brian (Keith D. Gallagher) is a small-town police officer in Prairieview, Texas, who is on probation for violence against a black college student. He has to deal with his irritable boss Trish (Lia D. Mortensen), who has no problem taunting him all of the time. Brian is also romantically involved with his co-worker Elise (Rae Gray), who decided to relocate and leave town. The worlds of these individuals quickly down-spiral in a collision of power and injustice.

86969873_10157979079031322_8142064408919539712_nDirector Danya Taymor makes her debut along with Tuttle in 'Graveyard Shift,' some of her credits include Pass Over at Steppenwolf and Daddy at the Vineyard Theatre and the New Group. After developing Tuttle's work, she focused on collaborative work so the audience can witness the story as a community. Although set designer Kristen Robinson used split runway staging, at times, it became very confusing.

How can a young woman's life have ended when she had so much to live for, a new location, and a new job?

The storyline with Bland and her boyfriend, played by Debo Balogun, was a beautiful love story that provides more sympathy for the tragic end of Bland's life.

The stage, a somewhat extended runway, set up to display a simultaneous look into the life of Bland, and the officer that shot her, was a bit awkward. You could see the audience having a difficult time trying to determine who to look at or listen to the combined dialogue.

We see the love and tension between Janelle and Kane and the personal issues of three Prairie View, Texas officer, Supervisor Trish (Lia D Mortensen), Elise (Rae Gray), and Brian (Keith D Gallagher). Elise is having an affair with Brian, who is married. Balogun, who reminds us of a young Sidney Poitier and Hicks are magical together as the distance lovers who are afraid that being under the same roof might complicate their love.

86871747_10157979079921322_5895928647780401152_nGraveyard Shift, decision to add the personal lives of the officers diminishes the events of how devastating and demoralizing it was to learn about how a young lady who accepted a new job and excited about relocating to Texas; would commit suicide. Their stories, which seemed out of place, and some unnecessary scenes, felt like fillers lacking meaning. The cop that arrested Janelle (Sandra Bland) storyline lack relevance and needed more substance. The story behind Bland death is too powerful to dilute with casual conversations.

During an interview, Korde Arrington Tuttle described Graveyard Shift as concurrent love stories where two lives collide. We witness the love between Janelle and Kane; however, their passion increased the sorrow and pain felt more than the love Tuttle wanted to display. It reminds us that life is too precious, and power can blind equality.

Let's Play 'Recommends' Graveyard Shift. We struggled with this recommendation but ultimately felt that the love aspect got lost in translation.

Goodman Theatre
Graveyard Shift
By: Korde Arrington Tuttle
Directed by: Danya Taymor
February 7 - March 8, 2020

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