"The Power Of The Trinity" At Central Park Summerstage, Tuesday, July 31st, 2012 Reviewed
Between Black Jesus, modern dance interpretation, East African soul music, and one of the most devastating denunciations of power and religion, a performance of "The Power Of Trilogy" wowed Summerstage, Tuesday evening.
"The Power Of Trilogy" is a musical theater production weaving Tomas Doncker's African global soul with the late Roland Wolf's play "The Power Of The Trinity" -detailing the build up to Italy's invasion of Ethiopia, the Emperor Haile Selassie's powerful but impotent speech to the League Of Nations, five years of war until the Italians were beaten back in 1942 by Ethiopians and the English fighting side by side (the play doesn't mention the English fighting with the Ethiopians) and finally Selassie's denunciation of Rome.
This is done in little over an hour, it is a fast paced, brilliantly orchestrated history lesson and Tuesday's performance was something of a showcase for the production. Tomas's score was perfection, the dancing sexy and powerful but the book isn't quite ready and the acting took forever to pick up the force it needs.
Just before his death, Roland Wolf's original play was being readied for a production of James Earle Jones in the lead, while not really right for the role, there is no doubt Jones would have given the gravitas to Selassie that C. Walker Jr. fails to, for the most part. Dressed like an Ethiopian Jesus figure and with his divine nature (the Rasta's believe the Emperor was God incarnate) only adding to the confusion, it is left to Walker to gie he seriously underwritten part life, and he can't. There isn't enough to the role. Essentially he spends the entire hour seethign and reaches his nadir in the baffingly bad speech at the United Nations, where the bad guys get all the best lines. The English representative disgraceful rejection of Ethopia, using spears against tanks, request for aide. "Sometimes the moral right is the moral wrong," is the mealy mouthed response in response to Selassie's completely inadequate speech. Or at least, in adequate as played. Either way it sure didn't work.
No doubt, the Ethiopian people fought bravely for the following five years, but it was the English (and WW2) that saved them -a war Selassie presciently warned the League of Nations was coming. I guess he did it during another speech or I missed it in this production.
But better is to come in this production. The Emperor had asked Rome for help at the outset of hostilities but Rome would only help if the Emperor made Ethopia part of the Holy Roman Empire and allowed the Church to rule. helassie balked. After the war was won, at the expense of hundreds of thousands of people, Helassie threw the Church out with the burning "Take you God and leave with your God, we have no use for him here." 45 minutes in, this is the best moment of the evening and promises that given a rewrite of the book, Walker can get this role.
The music never ends, either the background or the foreground. Tomas is an excellent bandleader and "Peace Is Not Fiction", with the three excellent female dancers performing a war dance is a meeting of form and content: ineluctable in its power and anger. Tomas plays acoustic guitar for much of the evening and the band follows his lead, as sometimes they are so deep inside the show, you are not really certain they are playing at al and other times they overtake the show and you can't take your eyes off them.
After the show, the great Ethiopian soulman Mahmoud Ahmed played a mini set with the Doncker band and, as Summerstage Artistic Director Erika Elliott noted, there are special moments in a season, and trust me: this was one of them. After taking a solo turn, Mahmoud and Tomas sang "Abet Gurage" together and, hidden somewhere in this tale of a Black Man facing a dark future, the reason why it is worth doing, why Ethiopia and my story is the same story is revealed through music.
"The Power Of The Trilogy": B