Struggle for Justice tells the story of an African-American family of sharecroppers in rural Mississippi, stifled by the culture of keeping them “in their place.” It is told through the medium of wayang puppetry in which colorful, transparent puppets whose limbs are articulated by the puppeteer are illuminated from behind onto a white scrim.
The family at the center of Struggle for Justice and the handful of people they encounter each represent an attitude or set of beliefs from the time period. The parents work hard and scrape, hoping to buy their land from their planter and provide opportunity for their son. An older neighbor preaches the gospel of keeping your head down and your mouth shut. The racist townspeople fear any hint of a challenge to the overriding cultural law of segregation.
After lingering on an episode in which an out of town cousin stirs up the anger of local whites, the show begins to fast forward through key passages in the son’s life, including World War II and the early lunch counter sit-in protests.
A suitable old Mississippi blues slide guitar soundtrack plays through the show. The puppets and settings are beautifully rendered, and it’s interesting to see the Indonesian style of art applied to familiar Southern characters, but unfortunately these are stereotypes with very little dimension. The simple story would play well to school age audiences who are just being introduced to this portion of history, but anyone with even a simple knowledge of Mississippi’s Jim Crow past will be left nonplussed.
Seeing the simple story translated into this interesting medium might be of interest to some, but the pre-recorded dialogue is the real impediment to getting lost in the performance. The voice actors are novices at best, the timing is unsteady, and inexplicably some flubbed lines are retained in the final recording. The puppets themselves end up being the most articulate elements of this show.
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