'Lockdown' opens minds at NBT
JEANETTE TOOMER Special to the AmNews | 8/10/2012, 10:30 a.m.
At the National Black Theater, Bryonn Bain's one-man show, "Lyrics from Lockdown," opens minds and hearts to the rampant injustice and plague of arrests and imprisonment of innocent Black men. As a memoirist, storyteller and composer, Bain combines solid acting, creative movement and telling lyrics to engage the audience and bring to dramatic life his riveting tale of prison activism and false arrest. Direction by Mei Ann Teo provides effective staging and video projections to magnify the themes of his story.
Bain reaches back to his youth, shifting from the influences of family members to the brutal police officers and public defenders who worked together to keep him imprisoned in a case of mistaken identity. Raised in Brooklyn, Bain graduated with college scholarships, attended Columbia University and later earned a degree from Harvard Law School.
He worked as a prison activist fighting for the rights of Black men like Nanon Williams, who was put on death row at age 17 for a crime he did not commit. Through voiceovers and photos projected on three screens, Williams' story becomes a recurring image in Bain's "Lockdown."
In 1991, police stopped Bain while he was driving his car. They arrested him and the so-called criminal justice system conspired to keep him jailed for three days. In short, they didn't believe he was who he said he was. Unbelievably, two public defenders appointed to represent him didn't believe him either. The shocking details of his treatment and conditions in the jail are repulsive.
Bain adds flashes of irony and wit to share descriptions of ineffectual white attorneys. One came to speak to him through a surgical mask. After listening to his story, she concluded that he is suffering from a mental illness. Bain sums up her opinion by saying, "My innocence is in my n-- mind."
Black-and-white photos projected on the screens at the beginning of the show include mug shots of Blacks arrested, including Kobe Bryant, Sean Combs, George Clinton and Angela Davis. Video DJs Manauvaskar Kuball, Jazzmen Lee Johnson and Rasheed Abiaka displayed disturbing statistics in large letters to testify to the growing trend of imprisoning huge numbers of young Black and Latino males. One statistic indicated that a Black male born in 2001 has a 32 percent chance of being incarcerated. From 1990 to 2001, 39 prisons have been constructed, compared to only four new prisons built during the 1970s.
"Lyrics from Lockdown" runs for an intermission-less 75 minutes. Bain provides visceral imagery and riveting lyrics in song and rap to wake us up to this ongoing assault on Black and Latino youth. Chesney Snow created the beatbox/sound effects and Marco Rizzuto plays electric guitar.
As for Nanon Williams, since 2010, he has been free on appeal. Like many others, he lives under the potential threat of lockdown. Bain also facilitates educational workshops for young people in schools and community centers. For more information on future performances, visit www.lyricsfromlockdown.com.