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Ashland Theater Review: Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer

Jenny Graham
Oregon Shakespeare Festival

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, now under the artistic direction of Nataki Garrett, has opened its long-awaited post-Covid season with a single production of Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer, by Cheryl West. Directed by Henry Godinez, this one-woman tour de force stars Chicago-based E. Faye Butler at the Allen Elizabethan Theatre.

In just 80 minutes without intermission, Butler depicts a series of dramatic episodes in Hamer’s life as a powerhouse of the 1960s civil rights movement in Mississippi. Although some of the brief scenes rush by like a Wikipedia list of achievements, a few deliver a shocking gut punch. Her beating in jail, ingeniously staged, is almost too painful to watch. And it’s dismaying that she was 44 years old before learning she was eligible to vote. It took three attempts to pass a rigged literacy test in order to register.

Butler’s voice is magnificent but unfortunately it’s amplified. With occasional distortion it’s hard to understand some of the spoken dialogue. However, the stirring songs, including Oh, Freedom, I Love Everybody, This Little Light of Mine and We Shall Not Be Moved, are easy to comprehend and the opening night audience gladly sang along.

This show is an eye-opener for young students, who can see how much has changed since the sixties, and how much hasn’t. The persistent issue of voter suppression is still deeply concerning, and that struggle is far from over.

Butler will play Fannie until August 28, after which Ashland favorite Greta Oglesby will complete the run through October 9.

This is Dorothy Velasco with KLCC’s Ashland Theater Review.

copyright 2021 KLCC. 

Dorothy Velasco has reviewed productions at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for KLCC since 1985.
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