James Scrugg’s interactive production pulls out all the politically correct stops in the three hour plus epic that is 3/Fifths. The name alone let’s on to the racial nature of the show, referring to the Three- Fifths Compromise of 1787 between southern and northern states, wherein they agreed to count slaves as three-fifths of a white man with regards to a state’s population.
The show, presented by 3-Legged Dog, spreads across several spaces in 3LD Art & Technology Centre and is divided into two parts: the Carnival, that is known as SupremacyLand, directed by Tamilla Woodard, is a provocative racial playground where the audience is racially self-separated for differing audience participatory experiences; and the Cabaret, directed by Kareem Fahmy, where the interworking of SupremacyLand is exposed.
At the on-set, theatre-goers enter the Carnival and choose their race: a white mark on your forehead for the “white” experience and a black mark for the “colored” experience. I went with three friends and they chose the “colored” experience. I chose “white” as a point of contrast. After race selection, you are treated accordingly – for instance, I was given more SupremacyLand dollars than my “colored” friends, and when a black actor inside SupremacyLand bumped into us, he made no eye contact with me as he politely mumbled “excuse me, ma’am,” while my friends received direct eye contact followed by a “whatcha looking at (N-word).”
Once you’re ushered into the wonderland of horror that is SupremacyLand, you’re invited to observe a black man in his natural environment – a prison cell, you learn how to tie a noose for lynching and “white” theatre-goers get to take selfies with a homie. Most all black actors not working the booths are in slave attire or prison clothes with the powerful racial slur written on their name tag.
3/Fifths is disturbing, it is terrifying, and it is awakening. The powerfully satirical world that is the Carnival is brilliantly directed by Tamilla Woodard in not it’s invitation to the past, a place long-ago far from contemporary life, but rather, as the Cabaret portion of 3/Fifths‘ drives home, SupremacyLand is a construction of modern times. A place where modern-day racists can go and bask in the America that champions the wistful notion that “White is Right.”
The contrast of the Carnival and the Cabaret is challenging. The Cabaret is a captive space where an overwrought narrative is forced upon the audience for an exhausting period of time. However, worthy of mention are the Cabaret’s actors, for these skilled and poignantly composed actors win their collective medal of endurance, for their commitment to character is nothing short of Jesse Owens greatness.
After leaving the theatre, I couldn’t help but make a connection to Plato’s ancient Greek tale Ring of Gyges, where he questions whether a man would act morally if the fear of being caught and punished were eliminated and for three plus hours, 3/Fifths runs such a test on it’s audience. The actors do such a wonderful job in baiting you to go ahead, laugh a little. Racism is not only the norm here, it’s expected- thereby any enjoyment you do experience in this world feels morally reprehensible. So with each laugh, you will wonder: Isn’t that racist? Is it okay to laugh at that? Isn’t this intolerable behavior a thing of the past?