“Brutality begets brutality; God made us better than that. We were made in HIS image. Let us strive to love one another, forgive one another, enjoy the beauty around us and live by The Golden Rule.”- Maida C. Odom
The Executioner, a play written by Maida C. Odom, a Temple faculty member, is a courtroom drama about a drug-related shooting of a child and elderly man in an inner city neighborhood that ends up in a courtroom. It played on Thursday, Sept.15 and Friday, Sept.16 at the Black Box @ the New Freedom Theatre on Broad and Master streets.
The plot centers on an all black cast of eight which included an overzealous prosecutor seeking the death penalty and a defense lawyer set on proving his client’s innocence. The defense attorney wants to assure his client’s acquittal, while the prosecutor wants to fix what he believes is wrong with the city by sending the accused to the electric chair.
The prosecutor, who is seeking the death penalty, commits the same act – murdering a child – during a heated moment in the courtroom.
The one-act play, though fiction, is loosely based on the playwright’s courtroom experiences while working at the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“I saw a lot of bizarre things happen,” Odom said. Odom said that her writing the play also had to do with her “deep concerns with the death penalty.”
The play confronts social issues such as black-on-black crime and class struggles within the black community, but centers on the death penalty. It was set in a small courtroom where the actors faced the audience throughout the duration of the nearly 70-minute performance. That way, the audience metaphorically served as the jury and was forced to take a moral stance on the issues at hand. Before the play began, Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” appropriately played in the background to set the ambience of the play.
The Executioner succeeded in its attempt to garner a discussion on an issue as controversial as the death penalty. Though consisting of only seven acts, the play was able to be thorough in its presentation. The actors immersed themselves in their roles, making it hard to believe that they did not possess some of the same qualities of those who they portrayed.
Odom said the actors really owned the stage.
“It’s interesting seeing your work brought to life,” Odom said.
Nakia Dillard, an actor for 15 years, played the accused drug dealer Willie Sylvester. Dillard first played the role in 2003.
In this version of the play, Dillard’s deliverance of the role of Sylvester was very convincing.
“It gives me a chance to come out of myself. … It kinda gives me a feel of what another person might go through,” Dillard said of performing in a role so different from his actual character.
Odom, an award-winning journalist, currently serves as internship coordinator for the Journalism department and a lecturer in the School of Communications and Theater.
The play was directed by Mel Donaldson, an SCT alum, who also created Black Box @ the New Freedom Theatre and is the curator and host.
The Executioner first premiered in 2001 at the Triangle Theater in Northern Liberties. It was last performed in 2003.
Charmie R. Snetter can be reached at email@example.com.