Up until Monday night, I, embarrassingly, had not heard of Harry Tyson Moore.
Moore (1905-1951) is the founder of the first branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Brevard County, in 1934.
He and his wife, Harriette Sims Moore, were both teachers, and started the NAACP branch together. Moore is also, unfortunately, believed to be the first martyr in the Civil Rights Movement.
To educate the public about this great historic figure, local actor Tony Thompson and his Metropolitan Diversity Theatre Company present the world premiere of Fearless, Harry T. Moore.
The play, on stage at the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center near Fort Lauderdale on Friday, May 8 and Saturday, May 9, examines the life and times of a brilliant and committed Florida native who fought for civil rights throughout the state – and paid the ultimate price for it.
Fearless takes place the night of the bombing that killed both Moores. Moore (played by Thompson), his wife, Harriette (Crystal Pressey), his mother, Rosalea Moore (Carolyn Johnson), and one of his daughters, Annie (Alexis Robinson), have just finished Christmas dinner. The other daughter, Evangeline, is on her way home from what was then Bethune-Cookman College (now Bethune-Cookman University).
As executive director of the Brevard County NAACP branch, Moore and his wife fought for civil rights, equal pay, the investigation of lynchings, legal action against all-white primaries, and voter registration for African Americans.
His most famous effort, and arguably the catalyst for his murder, was his activism against the wrongful arrests and convictions of three black men believed to have raped a white woman in 1949. Charles Greenlee was sentenced to life imprisonment; Sam Shepherd and Walter Irvin were sentenced to death.
Moore led a campaign along with NAACP support and the late Thurgood Marshall all the way to the Supreme Court. When the case had won its appeal in the Supreme Court, Sheriff Willis McCall shot Shepherd and Irvin while transporting them. They were handcuffed. Irvin survived to tell the story. Incidentally, recent findings have determined that McCall was also involved in Moore’s murder.
In the play, it is Christmas night, 1951, and the Moores are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, as well.
After everyone finishes their desserts and begin spending quality family time, they all go to bed.
Soon after, a bomb explodes under the Moores’ bedroom. Because the nearest hospital is 35 miles away, they lose time driving to the home of a relative who has a faster car. Then they go to the hospital. Harry dies on the way to the hospital. Harriette dies nine days later.
Of the four-person cast, the stand-out actors are Thompson and Johnson. Unfortunately, Thompson’s play, which he wrote and directed, has a surprising lack of action. Rather than seeing history unfold, it’s told to me by four actors sitting on a couch.
Now, I am a huge history buff and a visual person. So if history doesn’t unfold before my eyes, I start to get bored—in the same way I was bored when my college history teacher read us history from a book, rather than teaching it to his class.
I understand that times are tough, and most theater budgets only allow for so many actors for one play. But a lot more improvisation is needed. I would have almost accepted a narration by Thompson himself, if that would have meant not having to deal with the monotony of watching four people sit around having a low-key conversation about great feats of the past.
The great story is there. But I don’t feel like Thompson drew it out.
Pressey and Robinson have a time giving way to a conversation that seems as interesting as drying paint for the minuscule voice inflection of the first act. Now, I know I’m being harsh. So, I will give a silver lining: In Act Two, Annie and Rosalea give accounts of what happened after the bombing via monologues. Both, especially Johnson, have exceptional talent; which is on display when each one is alone with her audience.
The play compensates somewhat for its shortfalls with great acting talent. Yet as a critic, I wanted to jump up out of my seat and yell at the actors to give me more. I wanted more action and drama to slap me in the face and tell me to listen closely. Alas, I am a mute audience member, save for this publication.
The story of that Christmas night is such an important part of South Florida’s history, and I’m glad that Thompson has decided to tell it. But he must grab his audience members’ attention in a more entertaining way.
Fearless has the makings of a great play with its intense subject matter, but the delivery needs more work, and really good narration.
Photo by Mychal McDonald. Actor Tony Thompson
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Fearless, Harry T. Moore.
WHEN: Friday, May 8 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, May 9 at 3 p.m.
WHERE: The African-American Research Library and Cultural Center, 2650 Sistrunk Blvd., near Fort Lauderdale.
COST: $20 for general admission; $10 for students and senior citizens; $18 for people in groups of 10 or more.
CONTACT: For more information, please log onto www.friendsofaarlcc.com: or call