By: Paulanne Simmons
Hamilton may be offering Broadway audiences a history lesson about the formation of our country. But further uptown Sanctuary Theater at the Center at West Park is presenting a lesson much closer to our own times. This one-woman show is called Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom, and it tells the true story of Lynda Blackman, one of the youngest participants in the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965.
Adapted from Blackman’s autobiography and directed by Ally Sheedy, Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom features Damaras Obi as Blackman, a civil rights activist who was jailed nine times before her 15th birthday. It is a challenging role, as Obi receives little support from props, set, lighting or sound effects.
At times the lack of bells and whistles in this production is beneficial, allowing the audience to focus entirely on the story. But sometimes the show becomes a bit monotonous, even though Sheedy works tirelessly at moving Obi around the stage, frequently for no apparent reason.
A few visual aids would have helped enormously in establishing time, place and mood. The sounds of the dogs barking and the policemen screaming orders would have brought the audience much more effectively into the moment.
Fortunately, although Obi is young, she is also extremely talented. Her performance is often riveting and always believable. She never lets Blackburn’s commitment morph into self-righteousness, or her pain become self-pity. Her fear and her faith are what make her most attractive.
Martin Luther King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Fifty years after after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., this story of a young girl who braved prison, insults and injury needs to be told more than ever.
Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom runs through Jan. 20, 2018 at Sanctuary Theater at the Center at West Park, 165 West 86 Street.
Photography: Mark Greenberg