One-woman show brings civil rights history to stage

The intimate space of the Robert E. Sinclair Black Box Theatre was well-suited for the one-woman show “Selma ‘65” staged on Saturday Oct. 18. The play portrays the intersection of white civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo and Federal Bureau of Investigation informant Tommy Rowe, who goes undercover with the Ku Klux Klan members that fatally shoot Liuzzo following a demonstration in Selma, Alabama.

Audience members first see a shadow moving slowly across a colorless screen of twisted trees. Eerie music sets a serious tone as the figure, Liuzzo, emerges holding a cigarette.

The play revolves around the Selma to Montgomery, Alabama marches in which thousands of activists protested for voting reform. These marches were an integral catalyst in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In just 70 minutes, the play thoroughly explored complicated characters through juxtaposition. Actress Marietta Hedges assumes the roles of both Liuzzo and Rowe. She transitions seamlessly between the two characters, leaving no room for confusion.

Physicality helps clarify the character who is speaking. Hedges assumes a Southern drawl as Rowe, occupying more space with broader shoulders and a widened stance. Because Hedges acts beside an invisible scene partner, audience members must imagine responses from Hedges’s characters.

Liuzzo leaves her five children and husband to attend the voting march, a decision widely criticized for a woman at that time. It’s clear she desires a just society, but her execution seems reckless––she drives in a car with a black man named Leroy Moton in the front seat. Liuzzo’s storyline doesn’t shy away from her flaws. Rather, it presents a multifaceted protagonist who is conflicted about how society says she should behave and extremely passionate about working toward improved equality.

Although the storyline required extensive research, playwright Catherine Filloux took creative liberties by incorporating rocks as a recurring symbol. Additionally, she had to recreate dialogue between characters since there is no concrete evidence of the content.

Immediately following the performance, Filloux and Hedges joined the audience to answer any questions. The team explained their goal of creating “Selma '65” was to recount a historical event that tackled issues of voting rights and discrimination. The concern of voting rights seems even more relevant now that the rights of minority voters remain at risk.

Both women spoke candidly about the struggles they encountered while working on the play. Filloux stated that she wanted to avoid writing too much exposition, but also wanted audience members to clearly understand scenes with Hedges as the only actress. Hedges explained the challenging feat of perfecting the physicality of both diverse characters.

After three years of working on the play, it was performed in New York City at the end of September through October. Geneseo is the first location where it was performed after its time in New York City. In the near future, the team will travel to several colleges and other locations around the United States.

The play brings a widely unfamiliar event of the past to the forefront, an important occurrence that relates to present issues.