ON STAGE: The cast of 'Little Rock.' Carol Rosegg/NY Times

‘Little Rock,’ an off-Broadway production telling the story of the 1957 desegregation of Central High School, draws an extensive and positive review in today’s New York Times.

The play was written by Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj. He was inspired by time he spent in residency 11 years ago at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre (another reminder, the Little Rock Culture Vulture notes, of the greatness of that institution, its backers currently trying to raise money to prevent its dissolution). During his stay, he created “It Happened in Little Rock,” as part of the 50th anniversary of the school crisis. It’s not the same play now showing in New York through Sept. 8.


Writes the Times:

The weight and shame and triumph of history are the very oxygen of “Little Rock,” Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj’s viscerally affecting play about an especially ugly chapter in the battle for civil rights. When nine black students in Little Rock, Ark., enrolled at the previously all-white public high school in the fall of 1957, segregationists put up such virulent opposition that the teenagers needed a federal military escort to get them there safely each day.

Enduring violence and daily humiliations, these nine persevered. “Little Rock” wants to honor that bravery, using the ritual and communion of theater — sprinkled with soul-soothing a cappella music — to bear witness to what the students suffered and what they achieved.

Projections of photographs illustrate actual events. The review says of the players:


Onstage, the most clearly drawn are the Shakespeare-loving Melba Pattillo (Anita Welch), who can recite swaths of “Hamlet” by heart; Minnijean Brown (Shanice Williams, who played Dorothy on NBC’s “The Wiz Live!”), a boy-crazy member of the Pat Boone fan club; Ernest Green (Charlie Hudson III), an Eagle Scout who faces death threats as his graduation nears; and Jefferson Allison Thomas (Justin Cunningham), whose corny jokes keep his friends’ spirits up.

And, as they say about history, it’s not even past.

Mr. Maharaj’s dialogue sometimes suffers from the show’s desire to educate, but he does a beautiful job of balancing heartache with just enough humor. It is not a perfect play, but it is a deeply moving testament.

And if, by chance, you should happen to miss the echoes of present-day racism in the play, listen to the spectators around you. In their murmurs of recognition, they’ll set you straight.