The Catholic University of America

Sept. 17, 2015

One-Woman Show to Depict Civil Rights Activist

 
  Associate Professor Marietta Hedges stars in Selma 65. Photo by Steven Schreiber.

At the height of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, an unsuccessful march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 was intended to protest the exclusion of African-American voters from the electoral process. The demonstration dissolved into violence when local police responded to the marchers with tear gas and clubs.

The resulting violence was broadcast on television and came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.” It was also the catalyst inspiring Viola Liuzzo, a white housewife living in Detroit, to leave her family behind and travel to Alabama to help in any way she could.

The story of Liuzzo’s time in Selma, including her confrontation with the Ku Klux Klan and undercover FBI agent Tommy Rowe, is the subject of a new one-woman show set to premiere at Hartke Theatre Sept. 24. The show, Selma 65, by playwright Catherine Filloux, stars drama professor Marietta Hedges.

Performances will take place Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, Sept. 23, 25, and 26, at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 26 and 27, at 2 p.m.

The Department of Drama will host post-show discussions after each performance of Selma 65, featuring civil rights activists, artists, and historians. On the opening night of the show, CUA alumnus Andy Shallal, the owner of Busboys and Poets, activist, and entrepreneur, will lead a post-show discussion that includes the production’s artistic team.

Hedges, an associate professor and head of the M.F.A. acting program, commissioned playwright Catherine Filloux to write the one-woman show based on Liuzzo’s life after visiting the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., in 2011.

“The information they gave about her (at the center) said that when Viola was killed, she was singing, ‘We shall overcome’ and she also looked directly in the face of her killers,” Hedges said. “That always stuck with me.”

For several years, Hedges and Filloux worked together to perfect the script, in which Hedges portrays both Liuzzo and Rowe. The show made its world premiere earlier this year at La Mama Theater in New York City. It has also been performed at several universities around the country. This is the first time the play will be performed at Catholic University.

During the play, which is directed by Eleanor Holdridge, head of the M.F.A. directing program, Hedges switches back and forth between the two characters, to show their interwoven stories and the complex choices each had to make.

Alternating between the two characters over the duration of the play will be a challenge, but it is one Hedges and Holdridge say they are looking forward to.

“I think part of the joy of watching it is to see the transformative power of theatre,” Holdridge said. “Both of these characters can make a choice to become who they want to be in these complex situations, so to watch an actress make a choice to become each of these characters becomes part of the fun.”

In the end, Hedges and Holdridge hope the play helps audiences reflect on the history of the civil rights movement and the Voting Rights Act, which was passed after the Selma marches and banned discrimination in voting. 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the act. Hedges also said she hopes audiences will be inspired by Liuzzo’s example to take action when they see injustice.

“One of the great things about this play is that Viola says several times throughout it, ‘It’s not enough to write a check. You have to live by your actions,’” Hedges said. “She saw Bloody Sunday on TV and she got off her couch and went down there … What if more people got off their couches?”

Tickets for Selma 65 are available online and can be purchased at the door at $15 for general admission; $10 for seniors and CUA alumni, faculty, and staff; and $5 for students. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit drama.cua.edu, email cua-drama@cua.edu, or call 202-319-5358.

 

 

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