Review: THE TILL TRILOGY by Ifa Bayeza at Mosaic Theater Company

L-R Antonio Michael Woodard and Jason Bowen in The Ballad of Emmett Till. Photo courtesy of the production.

Mosaic Theater Company’s production of The Till Trilogy is a three-part play puzzling together the pieces of the tragic story of Emmett Till’s lynching. This piece is unlike anything I have ever seen. It beautifully brings together the fun and playful aspects of Emmett, making the tragedy even more heart wrenching than you initially knew it to be. Writer, Ifa Bayeza, presented a hefty task with an immaculate moment in history and Director, Talvin Wilks, rose to the occasion to transport you right into 1955, as if you personally knew those involved.

We begin the two-day event with part one: The Ballad of Emmett Till. The unraveling of the summer that will go down in history. Wary of knowing the end-result, you feel like you’re watching a lamb raised for slaughter. The dramatic irony is present amongst the audience, but once the production starts you can’t help but be captivated by the performance of Antonio Michael Woodard (Emmett “Bo; Bobo” Till). Telling this story is of monumental importance and you can see Woodard holds this task to the highest standard. It’s as if the bright-eyed Bo from Chicago is standing right in front of you – cracking jokes in his white suit with his special hat, charming those around him with his infectious energy. Again, making the ending even more difficult, feeling as if you’ve lost someone close to you. Mannerisms, movements, spoken rhythm – everything was done so flawlessly and naturally by this immensely talented actor.

Review: THE TILL TRILOGY at Mosaic Theater Company
L-R Billie Krishawn, Antonio Michael Woodard, Jason Bowen, Rolonda Watts, Vaughn Ryan Midder, and Jaysen Wright in The Ballad of Emmett Till. Photo courtesy of the production.

Though our focus is on Bo for this first show, the story cannot be told without those around him – especially his mother, played by Billie Krishawn, Mamie Till-Bradley. No one can imagine the pain Mamie went through that dreadful summer, yet she does not back down to show the world the disaster she has been faced with. Krishawn portrayed the worries every parent fears when their child goes off on their own in such a personal way. The resilience she had to present after her child was brutally taken from her – a truly grueling task – was amazing. Krishawn embodied not just Mamie, but every other character she took on as well (Simeon Wright and Caroline Bryant). She was in the story as if it were real life. Her reactions felt genuine and she gracefully brought each character to life with the tiniest motions and facial expressions.

Completing the cast of The Ballad of Emmett Till, we have Rolonda Watts (Mamoo, Heluise Woods, and Miss Lizabeth), Jaysen Wright (Wheeler Parker and Roy Bryant), Jason Bowen (Mose Wright, Johnny B. Washington, and H.L. Loggins), and Vaughn Ryan Midder (Maurice Wright, Ruthie May Crawford, and J.W. “Big” Milam), all bringing together those who complete this story. Every person in this group knew this story needed to be told as close to perfect as it could be, and they certainly delivered. There were many hats that had to be worn and everyone worked in tandem with each other. With the many characters being taken on by such a small cast, it can be difficult for it to translate to the audience who is who at which moment. There was no struggle with this talented group. From making a turn, to altering their costume, to switching the accent, you knew when someone new had entered the scene – leaving much up for interpretation, but never causing confusion.

Review: THE TILL TRILOGY at Mosaic Theater Company
Billie Krishawn in That Summer in Sumner. Photo courtesy of the production.

If you were challenged with seeing only one of the three parts, this show is the best for portraying the reality of Emmett Till’s story in a stunningly horrifying way. It’s such a captivating performance that will leave you with questions and possibly new knowledge that you didn’t have before. Reading about or hearing about it is one thing, but seeing everything unfold in the very room you’re sitting in is a completely new experience. You will grow attached to the characters and feel every emotion you can imagine. The content can be quite intense and disturbing, as it is like what Mamie felt the world needed to see, so you do need to consider if witnessing this is in your best interest. There was absolutely not a dry eye in the house.

Read the full review by Olivia Murray for Broadway World.