Andi Velazquez Mejia ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Human nature demands that individuals either push towards or pull away from the concept of being part of the norm. Striving to resemble what others ordinarily see or hear guarantees inclusion, but breaking away holds the possibility of grand and memorable novelty. Breath and Imagination, much like its protagonist, Roland Hayes, chooses to embrace a uniqueness that leads to the creation of an unforgettable story.
Despite a minimalist set and a cast composed of only four people, the versatility of the actors and carefully crafted dialogue successfully guides the audience through the many phases and settings in Roland Hayes’ complex real life story. The narrative begins in XIX century Georgia; where Roland and his mother, Angel Mo, interpreted hilariously and wonderfully by Harriett D. Foy, struggle to make ends meet while retaining their deep religious faith. After listening to a recording of one of the world’s greatest singers Roland realizes he wants to produce the same beautiful sounds. Slowly but surely, Roland develops into an incredible artist, becoming one of the best classical singers of his time. However, prejudice, racism, financial struggle, and even a lack of confidence on Roland’s part, taints the journey of a man attempting to find his voice in the world.
Elijah Rock is, without a doubt, breathtaking with his interpretation of Roland Hayes. International audiences that watched Hayes perform claimed he achieved a distinct sound from the combination of his classical training with the sounds he carried from his African-American background. Rock’s voice is a rich instrument he clearly has attuned to, and the careful control over his craft allows him to pay rendition to Hayes successfully. It is no wonder he won 2014’s NAACP Theatre Award for Best Male Equity performer with a role that demands great acting and great singing.
The performances, music, and themes embedded in the play leave a bittersweet aftertaste. Not feeling inspired after Hayes learns how to, “use his breath and imagination” to create the life he dreams of would seem heartless. The support of important people in his life, such as his mother and his musical teachers, is compelling and beautiful. However, audiences derive importance not from the emotionally captivating and musical parts of the story alone. The reminder of the injustices of racism, police brutality, and people’s inability to break their perception of individuals’ art from their ethnicity resonates with the same force as Rock’s voice through the theater. Given the events that occurred recently across the United States involving the same unjust motifs of American history, the reminder cannot come at a better time.
Therefore, Breath and Imagination is a must-see. As Rock exclaims in character from center-stage, the cast and crew carry with them a collection of experiences from the past. These same instances cannot be ignored since so much of this work of art is still incredibly relevant to the present.