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Review: The Conviction Of Lady Lorraine

Farmers Alley Theatre

The latest production at Farmers Alley Theatre in Kalamazoo - "The Conviction of Lady Lorraine" - is being streamed online. WMUK’s Gordon Bolar has this review.

“The Conviction of Lady Lorraine” is a dynamic tour de force by local actor and teacher Dwandra Nickole Lampkin.

In this captivating online, one-woman show, a film based on her play, Lampkin sets out to tell the story of a female protestor on the street outside the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, years after Martin Luther King, Junior’s assassination. Lady Lorraine is represented onstage by a life-sized figure fabricated from chicken wire covered by a shawl and seated on a bench.

Although she finds inspiration in Lady Lorraine’s 28-year crusade, Lampkin’s gaze turns inward after being confronted by a simple disarming question: “Where are you from?”

Lampkin answers by telling the story of her own life. And what a story she tells.

Her first-person narrative is more than a mere accumulation of incidents in the life of a black actress. It’s also much more than the dozen or so characters Lampkin portrays, like a bus tour guide, a New York agent, or her own mother. She makes these mercurial character changes seamlessly with a hair adjustment, costume piece, or prop.

Credit Farmers Alley Theatre
Farmers Alley Theatre
Dwandra Nickole Lampkin in "The Conviction of Lady Lorraine"

The real key to Lampkin’s success, however, is her relationship with the audience. Through direct eye-contact with the camera and conversational tone throughout this one-hour show, Lampkin invites us to come along on her personal journey: a mixture of setbacks, small victories, realizations, and finally actualization to her life’s real purpose - telling her own story.

Her invitation is so genuine and her experiences so authentic that we are willing come with her. Throughout the performance, Lampkin consistently maintains a light touch and sprinkles her tale with liberal doses of humor.

Equally important, Lampkin’s tone is never preachy, even when she feels passionately about a subject. She illustrates her feelings on “color blind casting” in the theatre, through a hilarious recreation of a scene from “The Miracle Worker” featuring all black leads.

Lampkin is reinforced in her efforts by high-quality video and audio production values. Directors Dee Dee Batteast and Thomas Murray’s intimate staging of the production is enhanced by a camera that fluidly follows Lampkin on every phase of her journey.

Lampkin’s narrative is supported and presented with variety and creativity. The feeling here is that we are watching a film that is of the stage and uses theatrical conventions. For instance, when Lampkin recites the insensitive racist remarks of her white students, we see the students’ silhouettes on the screen behind her moving as if they were generating the dialogue.

Another incidence of creative staging occurs as Lampkin receives a major revelation from Millie the waitress, who seems to understand more than she should about Lampkin’s experience with rejection and her inner need for self-actualization.

While seated at a table, Lampkin listens attentively to Millie’s advice. The head and face of the waitress are out of the frame, but her tone, posture, and pointed index finger do the convincing. In this powerful moment, we see the life-changing words register on Lampkin’s face.

It is as if Lampkin’s epiphany is coming from within. The words are being spoken by someone else but in the end they’re Lampkin’s.

Central to Lampkin’s work is the concept that, “It’s important who tells the story”. Viewers fortunate enough to see Lampkin’s story will appreciate the teller as much as the tale. The production is available on the Farmers Alley website through November 5th.

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