Playwright T.J. Young’s play, “No. 6,” depicts a city being torn apart by riots after police killed an unarmed Black teenager in 2001. The production is set in Cincinnati, but the location is largely unimportant.
It could happen anywhere.
While based on events following the shooting death of 19-year-old Timothy Thomas, a Black teen who was killed by Cincinnati Police Patrolman Stephen Roach in 2001, Young wrote the play in response to the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. However, the story is painfully relevant today. In the final week of Indiana Repertory Theatre’s run of the play, which ended April 4, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s trial began for the killing of George Floyd last May.
“No. 6” showcases the personal toll police brutality and conversations about racism have on Black and white people — and civilians and police — alike.
From the confines of their apartment above their dry-cleaning business, the Anderson family — mother Ella (Milicent Wright) and 24-year-old twins Felix (Jamaal McCray) and Felicia (Lakesha Lorene) — watch their neighborhood erupt in violence during a five-day riot.
Wright played the part of a protective matriarch wonderfully. The dialogue between Ella and the twins created a realistic, relatable family dynamic. McCray’s portrayal of Felix captures a protective son and brother, forced into being the man of the house after the murder of his father years earlier. Each character was filled with their own idiosyncrasies which ultimately come together to move the play along.
When Felix goes out past the city-wide curfew to get food for the family, he returns dragging in an unconscious, drunk white man who Felix said tried to mug him. As the riots rage on outside their window, a riot ensues within the apartment when the man, Kelly (Michael Stewart Allen), wakes up.
Kelly, hot-headed and hungover, only seems to soften when Felicia speaks to him about her theories about the end of the world. Felicia is obsessed with dinosaurs and is autistic — which Lorene portrays convincingly without being offensive — and tells Kelly the sixth mass extinction will occur because of the actions of mankind.
Through shocking revelations about Kelly’s backstory and how the Andersons learned to cope after the death of their husband and father, “No. 6” is a beautifully crafted story that is all too familiar to some. At certain points, it’s difficult to watch, but that’s the point. The play leaves audiences grappling with what it means to stand with your community while empathizing with those outside of it.
While it’s often a mark of pride for an artist to create a work which stands the test of time, Young is hopeful for the day his play is no longer relevant.
“People across the globe take to streets and cry ‘never again,’” he wrote in the play’s program. “And then it happens again. And again. And again. … Let’s make this play antiquated.”
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.