The latest offering from acclaimed playwright Dominique Morisseau is an ensemble piece in every sense of the word. It was devised in collaboration with the cast and director and combines a diverse range of theatrical techniques to create a moving and enlightening experience.
Blood at the Root tells the story of an American high school in which different racial groups are almost completely segregated. Everyone accepts this because it’s how it’s always been, but when a black student goes to sit under a tree that has been unofficially designated a 'whites only' tree, racial tensions that had been bubbling under the surface come to the fore. The show augments the action and dialogue with pieces of expressive dance and simple physical theatre which add a kind of universal quality to the action.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the show is the subtlety with which it explores the themes. Each character brings a different nuance to the discussion, making it virtually impossible to take a side. This is the saving grace that prevents the play from feeling like a sermon. Each decision is character-led, each discussion of the issues at hand emerges naturally from the context and each piece of personal revelation feels fully earned.
Also worthy of note is the use of dance. The play suggests that being born black and male makes you perhaps the most at risk from the state, the least likely to have your position understood and respected. So the central black, male character (played with affecting skill by Christian Thompson) expresses himself primarily through extended dance sequences. It is extremely effective. The choreography is evocative, but at the same time a clear indication of the internal nature of his expression and his silence in a wider discourse.
The cast is extremely strong. Stori Ayers brings a real warmth to Raylynn (the closest thing to a protagonist the show has), while Tyler Reilly as Colin conveys brittle, impotent frustration so well that he commands attention whenever he is on the stage. Everyone gets their moment to shine and everyone uses it to add their own colour to the sophisticated pattern.
The play illustrates the issues it raises, but steers clear of directly offering a solution. Instead, it allows the solution to emerge naturally in the audience's minds as the only possible answer. It is a highly textured piece and worthy of attention.