As part of its 40th anniversary season, the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company is presenting “What to Send Up When It Goes Down” by noted playwright Aleshea Harris.
Produced by the Movement Theatre Company, the production toured the D.C. community in recent weeks with stops at the Duke Ellington School for the Arts, the Howard University Black Box and THEARC West Black Box. It will finish playing in the region with a run at the Woolly Mammoth from Oct. 30 to Nov. 10.
The production deals with issues of racial violence, including the deaths of Black persons at the hands of law enforcement. “What to Send Up When It Goes Down” also serves as a ritual of sorts for attendees that allows a type of catharsis relevant to the tragedies being referenced.
“The ritual was made with Black people in mind, for Black people,” said production director Whitney White. “But I do want everyone to come see it, because it is a healing space, and we all need a little healing right now.”
The context of the show is apparent upon walking into the theater where during the entrance we are exposed to several dozen photos of Black people killed, mostly though police or law enforcement violence.
The actual production begins as a participatory experience as attendees are asked to engage in a ritual that honors those lost and also allows those present to express their frustrations. The ritual included joining a circle, saying the names of those lost through gun violence and writing a note of positivity to the Black community, some of which were read aloud.
The play itself features a dynamic cast of Black actors performing in a series of vignettes that reflect on the Black experience and its challenges, from the time of slavery to the modern day. Many of them are amusing but with a tinge of sadness, as they highlight some of the more difficult aspects of being a Black American.
Furard Tate, a native Washingtonian, was impressed by the inclusive nature of the production.
“It was a participatory process which allows you to be open,” he said. “It allows you to realize that even though you may not have been there when the incident happened we are all affected by the incident and we are all connected by our community.”
The cast of eight African American actors effortlessly transitioned between guides through the rituals and performers amongst the several scenes. For Isla Abdullah, the production brought home the reality in which she and her family exist.
“Why should we have to live thinking like this?” she said. “I pray for my children every day when they go out on the streets. The reality is that we don’t know when we’re going to lose another one through the hands of a gun that’s supposed to be protecting us.”