History Remembered at Paradise Square

Dance contest to win $300 for the draft fee
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The production “Paradise Square” directed by Moises Kaufman is running at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre located at 243 West 47th Street. The show inspired by the songs of Stephen Foster, takes a walk back to the year 1863 showcasing an episode in New York history when mainly Irish immigrants and dockworkers revolted against the Civil War draft imposed on every eligible white man from age 18 to 45. Although black men were ready to fight in the war in hopes of gaining freedom from slavery, they weren’t allowed because they weren’t considered citizens. Many were still enslaved in several states, especially in the south.

Freed blacks who weren’t lucky enough to have their own business worked at menial jobs on the NY docks or wherever they could find labor. The play suggests that the Irish and Blacks as oppressed peoples got along and even intermarried. That is, until a mandatory Civil War draft was implemented. Once the Irish immigrants came to New York they took most of the low paying jobs reserved for Blacks. Evil men who were anti-Lincoln opposed his freeing the slaves since they were profiting from free labor. Thus, they began a campaign of manipulation and discontent. Spreading fear and lies among the Irish stating that once whites went to war, they wouldn’t have jobs upon their return because the black people would take their jobs. Although those opposed to fighting the war were given an option of paying an exemption fee of $300; a sum in those days far too high for the working class to pay. Spurred on by greedy rich politicians and those who wanted to turn the vote against Lincoln, the Irish blamed the black population for their lot and not unlike Trump’s insurrection, revolted against Lincoln, the United States government’s draft and Blacks. For 4 days they rioted, lynched, wounded and burned down buildings in mainly black sections. The exact number of fatalities is unclear.

The remarkably talented cast brought the audience to such exuberant heights they stood up twice during the show to give a standing ovation. Once, when the talented Joaquina Kalukango portraying Nelly O’Brian, sang “Let It Burn” and again at the end of the show when the entire cast got a well-deserved standing ovation. The step dances and lively antics were done to such musical numbers as “Paradise Square,” “Gentle Annie” sung by the equally talented Chilina Kennedy in the role of Annie Lewis. Other musical numbers included “You Have Had My Heart,” “Turn My life Around,” “Someone To Love,” “Angelina Baker (Always on my Mind) (sung by Sidney DuPont), “Breathe Easy,” “No More: the Protest” and “Now or Never” to name a few.

John Dossett, Sidney DuPont, A.J. Shively, Aisha Jackson, Nathaniel Stampley, Kevin Dennis, Jacob Fishel, Gabrielle McClinton and Matt Bogart were standout performers as were the entire ensemble cast of very impressive dancers and singers.

As a reviewer and writer, along with the audience, I couldn’t help but be impacted by Paradise Square. One couldn’t help but see the events within the show were reflective of current times and present political dishevel. It baffles the mind how mankind never seems to learn from his own deeds and can be so easily manipulated against one another. Formerly, I interviewed a survivor of the Rwandan genocide wherein the Belgians manipulated Hutu and Twa people against one another via an event that resulted in an 100 day killing spree.

When will mankind ascend ignorance, greed and hatred to value life above profit?

For those who want to learn about the nearly forgotten history of the Irish revolt against the draft or just want to enjoy the retelling of this story through wonderful music and dance, go see “Paradise Square.” It is well worth the viewing. Masks required.

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