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Zooman and the Sign
Spotlight: An Interview with Artistic Director Lou Bellamy
By May Mahala, Dramaturgical Staff

Mahala: What prompted you to choose to direct this play this season?

Bellamy: I chose the play because we are still suffering from the violence that this play depicts. I read a number of recently written plays on this subject and I still think Zooman and the Sign is the best. Charles Fuller is careful to show Zooman as scary but also as human and this is what sets this play apart from others. Fuller takes the time to show that Zooman is afraid and wounded and that is what makes him even scarier, like Bigger Thomas in Native Son.

Mahala: The first time I read the play, it struck me as very much of the 1980ísó I wasnít surprised to learn that it was originally produced in 1980. This was partly because of the fashion that is mentioned in the script but also because of the way that gang issues are talked about, particularly the concern over how early young people become involved in gang and criminal activity. Are you setting this production in the 1980ís or are you updating it to reflect the present moment?  

Bellamy: I am setting it in the present time because these issues are still with us. The play deals with a community that has begun to decay and the people in the neighborhood know it. There is a feeling of incredible vulnerability that is still with us. There are neighborhoods where black folks are scared to come out of their houses. We have to find a way to deal with violence and aggression without becoming violent and aggressive.

Mahala: Yes, the play does a nice job in showing that there isnít a consensus about how to react to criminal activity in our neighborhoods, particularly how to handle crime associated with drug dealing. What do you think this play says about accountability and crime prevention?

Bellamy: One thing is for sure, there is a tremendous distrust of the police. We used to have neighborhoods where everyone knew each other and there was community accountability. We donít have that so much anymore and the machine that is supposed to protect and serve the black community has historically failed us for the most part. Therefore there is a dilemma about using the police force to ensure our welfare.    

Mahala: What are some of the directorial challenges of this play?

Bellamy: This play is wonderfully constructed and yet at the same time very simple. The family is in terrible grief and I think this is the key to accessing the truth of the play. We need to reveal their grief without becoming melodramatic. The family is buffeted about by violence and economics and in the midst of terrible hardship, they are trying to take a little step in reclaiming some of their agency.