By Zoe Oliphant
“What does it mean to be a man in the eyes of God?” What does it mean to be a man in the eyes of men? Are the perceptions of the image that these two entities behold the same? In the 1940s, in South Carolina, they were not. Tensions between the races of men swallowed Alcolu, SC.
Stinney: An American Execution tells the story of a 14-year-old African American boy who was wrongly accused and convicted of the rape and murder of two white girls. This production was produced by the Glow Lyric Theatre, the only opera company in Greenville, SC with a social justice mission. Although this production did not bring actual justice to the case, it confronted and brought awareness to the racial tensions and the integrity of the legal system in South Carolina.
In this story, George Junius Stinney Jr. and his family lived in a community that was divided by not only race but also gender and age. Like many communities at this time, the men were superior to women and the children were taught to mind their manners and to stay out of “grown folks’ business”. But what happens when the innocence of children is interrupted by the wrong doings of ”grown folk?”
George Stinney Jr. is accused of the crime because he was said to be the last one to see the girls alive. His skin completion did not make it any better. He was convicted and sentenced to execution by electric chair- a sorrowful reality that made this opera hard to stomach but beautiful in its craft and depiction.
The cast and crew of this opera moved the audience with their performances. They held nothing back in the movement on the stage, how they interacted with the other characters and the power of their voices. Everyone was involved! While there was dialogue, the orchestra rhythmically clapped or snapped. With anticipation, the audience leaned in. Props and lighting were used to add elements of symbolism. For example, chairs were placed in the center to separate the stage. In essence, you saw the segregation between the races and how they were from “different sides of the tracks.” Various colored lights were used to grow the anticipation of what would happen next. A red light was used in the death of the girls and a white light was used to depict electricity in the execution of George Stinney Jr. From the design of the set to the body language of the characters, this production gave the audience a look into a grievous reality with a beautiful artistic flare!
Glow Lyric Theatre exceeded my expectations in this performance-from the time I walked in, to the time we walked out. This was not just an attempt to convey a story that was worth telling, this performance was a way to take action in bringing justice and ending executions. Glow Lyric Theatre, well done!
Supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Glow’s production marks the Southeastern premiere of this opera.
Due to the intense subject matter, this opera is intended only for audiences 16 and older. It contains graphic and mature scenes that may be upsetting to some people. Viewer discretion is advised.
Stinney’s final performance is Sunday at 2 pm. Also, catch AIDA tonight and tomorrow, July 29-30 @ 7 pm and Classic Broadway: Songs from Musical Theatre’s Golden Age tomorrow (Saturday, July 30 @ 2 pm and Sunday, July 31 @ 7 pm.) All shows are at the Kroc Center in Greenville. Tickets are available at the door or at glowlyric.com.