By GARRETT CLELAND Assistant Life and Times Editor
September 24, 2009
Loyola had the honor of continuing the dialogue surrounding the
Angola Three by presenting a play that has been considered by state
funded schools as being too controversial.
The Loyola College of Law presented the show, performed in Nunemaker
Hall on Sept. 18, 19 and 20 by a Houston theatre group.
Writer and producer Parnell Herbert's "Angola 3," directed by Wayne
DeHart, calls for prison reform through the story of a group of
inmates of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, commonly called Angola,
who, dissatisfied with their living conditions, starts a chapter of
the Black Panther party in 1971 in order to fight for change.
After a guard was killed, the prison staff sends three to solitary
confinement for 30 years, until they are discovered and granted
retrial. Robert King, played by Phil Brent, is released following his
trial when the Supreme Court rules that he was subjected to an
"inhumane and unconstitutional" sentence.
Since his release, King has worked for the acquittal of the two other
prisoners, bringing light to the poor prison conditions in the US system.
The characters were well represented as a whole, with strong voices
to represent the frustration of the Angola inmates, but each, with
the exception of the warden and the guards, seemed to lack a truly
defined voice until the three inmates were placed in solitary
confinement halfway through the play.
The weakest performance came from a Rastafarian inmate, played by
Chris Tucker, whose attempt at a Caribbean accent fell very short.
One of the best performances came from the prosecutor, played by Bob
Morgan, whose convincing account of racist views and a well-performed
rural-Louisiana accent stood out against all of the other characters.
Several red herrings were dropped into the play, which threw off its focus.
In one example, an older inmate, who had devoted himself to being a
religious man, handed out copies of the Bible which concealed what
looked like prison shanks. It seemed as though the shanks were going
to be used in the play, or even that they would be found and used as
some kind of evidence against the prisoners, but that never happened.
The best part about the play was the music soundtrack, which featured
songs and excerpts of speeches, which led the play from the late
1960s and early 1970s into the late 1990s.
Black artists of various genres were specifically highlighted and a
special performance by two Mardi Gras Indians surprised the audience
in the second act.
The characters contributed their own talents as well, singing and
chanting throughout the performance.
Though the play alluded to a strong message, it wasn't really clear
what that message was until the end. At this point, the idea that
states divert federal funding for state prisons to fund smaller
institutions becomes more coherent.
The play suggests that the funding, once diverted, tends to benefit
law enforcement agencies, rather than go towards much-needed prison reform.
The tone of the play was angry, and almost militaristic. It was clear
that the prison guards and warden were racist, but the play told more
than it showed.
It didn't focus enough on why prisons need reform, instead
concentrating on the camaraderie of the Black Panther party within Angola.
The play was hosted by the Loyola College of Law and several other
organizations including the Black Law Student Association, the
National Lawyers Guild and Amnesty International, among others.
The play was decided upon because the story is an ongoing civil
rights issue that many Loyola law students have studied. Many have
even taken a trip to the prison to witness the conditions for themselves.
The Black Law Student Association president, Tiffany Tate, Loyola Law
third year student mentioned that though she knew about the Angola
Three, but was surprised to learn that the Black Panthers worked for
such positive changes, and that was the reason why the three men were
She said after seeing the play, "I appreciate the fact that the Black
Panther group didn't focus on race when trying to better prison
conditions, and they made that apparent in the play."
As a law student, Tate said she believes that prisons are
necessary, but that the prisoners conditions and rights should be
respected, and that, especially in Louisiana, reform on prison
sentences should be applied.
She noted that it is the disproportionate prison sentences and
terrible conditions that stand in the way of any chance of rehabilitation.
Garrett Cleland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org