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May 12, 2017
Review: 3/Fifths
Credit: Skye Morse-Hodgson

A chronicle of my experience at James Scruggs’ 3/Fifths running at 3-Legged Dog through May 28th.

06:50 PM - I arrive at 3LD and am told to sit and wait by where the blind woman (Catherine Braxton) is. Once the carnival is open I have to stand in front of her, declare my race (white or black only, no in between) and she will proceed to mark me with a corresponding line on my forehead.

06:58 PM - The blind woman begins to call audience members.

07:01 PM - “Seriously, no one?” she asks impatiently after all of us who have been sitting look at each other sheepishly.

07:02 PM - A white man bites the bullet, he declares himself as white and is shown to the “whites” entrance.

07:05 PM - Several people stand in line awaiting for the blind woman to mark them, hand them SupremacyLand dollars and direct them to their corresponding entrance. Since the blind lady can’t see anyone’s skin color, people are asked to identify themselves as they wish. Most of the white members who declare themselves as black instantly display a proud, self-congratulatory smile for their courage.

07:07 PM - There is not a single day living in America when I’m not reminded of my skin color. My skin is light brown, so I know I’m not white...but I’m not black either. When the blind woman asks me to pick one I select the one I know I could pass as.

07:10 PM - As we await instructions, we stand in line in a bright hallway. I ask one of the ushers (her name tag displaying the “n word”) if we have to wait like school children. She smiles and tells me to make myself at home and move around freely.

07:15 PM - When a Southern Belle in a Confederate flag ballgown leads us into the carnival of atrocities at SupremacyLand I tell myself “Toto, I have a feeling we’re in Kansas”. Wherever I look there are reminders of 45’s America, a place where racism has become spectacle, and where bodies of color have become the easiest of targets.

07:25 PM - I just learned to tie my first noose. “You never know when you’ll need one” says the young woman (Alyson Brown) behind the counter who then tries to sell us noose earrings to take home.

07:45 PM - I sit down to rest after witnessing three young white men being congratulated for their knowledge of lynching facts, a young black woman help plant evidence to incriminate a dead man, and an elderly gentleman shake a toy van in order to win a videogame that intends to recreate how black men are abused inside police cars.

07:50 PM - I know there’s an intermission, so I approach the food vendor in the middle of the fair to ask how long will it be. She tells me the food options, ignores my question and when I repeat “how long is the intermission?” she turns her head, gives me a vacant look and smiles “I don’t know what you’re talking about”. Kudos to the ensemble for staying in character even when asked logistical questions about the experience. (PS: the intermission is ten minutes long)

08:20 PM - I go into the restroom and when I go wash my hands I see the black line going down my forehead for the first time. It’s the most fucked up Ash Wednesday marking I’ve ever seen.

08:27 PM - I visit the Flip Flop Ride where a young white woman massages my back while I listen to an audio track which explains what it’s like to grow up as a white young man (hence, flip flop of who I am)

08:39 PM - After a simulation of what it must’ve felt like to travel in a slave ship, we are guided to a room full of light. I feel like my soul has left my body. If the show ended here, it would be absolutely transcendental.

Credit: Skye Morse-Hodgson

08:55 PM - The cabaret part of the experience details how the black SupremacyLand employees ended up working there. It’s like a prequel of sorts, which robs the first half of some of its power. If the first half showed us people forced to give up their dignity in the name of a paycheck or a “future”, the cabaret section turns the characters into PSAs.

09:20 PM - Vienna Carroll’s Mammy is extraordinary.

09:35 PM - The nauseatingly sweet, red wine breath of the man sitting next to me is reminding me I’m seeing a show. I wonder if he got a glass of wine to make the experience easier to sit through, or because it’s what he always does at the theater. My stomach groans with hunger, I blush, how can I be hungry when a man is about to be lynched onstage?

09:45 PM - The central message of the experience is spelled out once more. We get it, do we? Was it necessary to hammer it into our heads in such a dramaturgically clunky way? Did the show really need a dramatization to explain the origins of SupremacyLand? My mind wanders once more to the perfect finale of the first half.

09:50 PM - “The sea brought us here/the sea will take us home” is repeated. This is the most devastating mantra I’ve ever heard.

09:55 PM - Lights go out.

09:56 PM - Do we applaud?

10:30 PM - “The sea brought us here/the sea will take us home” dammit, my mind needs to stop humming that.

11:20 PM - I’m home now and as I go into the bathroom to remove my contact lenses, I’m slightly shocked by the realization that I still have the black line on my forehead. I forgot to wash it off before leaving 3LD. Is that why that young woman on the subway kept smiling at me?

11:21 PM - I think I’ll wash it off tomorrow.

3/Fifths is now playing at 3LD, for more information and tickets click here.

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Written by: Jose Solis
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