Award-winning playwright Anthony Davis will debut The Central Park Five at the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro on June 15, 22 and 23, 2019. The performance explores the interrogation and coerced confessions of five teenagers wrongly convicted of a crime in New York City in the 1980’s, along with the profound effect the unjust prison sentences had on their young lives.
Composer Davis says, “I have devoted myself to the creation of works that bring to light issues of political and social significance – with a focus on the issues of race and justice.” The opera, with a libretto by award winning playwright and screenwriter Richard Wesley, is a passionate story about an issue that continues to create headlines.
The Central Park Five case as both a crime and a trial is one that remains talked about today even more than three decades after the initial events occurred. In 1990, The New York Times reported that the case was one of the most highly covered crimes of the 1980’s. On April 20, 1989, Five African American and Latino teenagers were in the wrong place at the wrong time, resulting in their wrongful conviction of a violent crime that took place in Central Park. The case transfixed a racially polarized New York City, and the teens were labeled a “wolf pack” by the news media. Op-ed pieces generalized the alleged spread of “wilding” among powerless men around the country, while ads and articles in the newspapers and tabloids exacerbated racial division and acrimony.
In addition to the five teenagers; Yussef Salam, Kevin Richardson, Korey Wise, Antron McCray and Raymond Santana, other real-life characters portrayed in the opera include the families of the teens, the District Attorney, and the 1980’s celebrity real estate mogul Donald Trump. Trump was a prominent figure in the case, placing full-page ads in four New York City papers calling for the death penalty to be reinstated to punish the teenagers.
Long Beach Opera commissioned the work from Davis based on his previous work Five. Andreas Mitisek comments: “Taking this important story to the opera stage gives us the opportunity to explore the emotional impact beyond the mere facts.”
The production is designed and directed by Andreas Mitisek, Artistic and General Director of Long Beach Opera, and will be conducted by Leslie Dunner.
Davis comments, “I think operas work on multiple levels, and certainly a visceral level is one that I’m very concerned with. I want the audience to have an emotional experience that involves identifying with the characters and putting yourself in their place. I am hoping that The Central Park Five will play an important role in understanding where we are after Ferguson and how such incidents of racial injustice are rooted in racial fear and hatred.”
Davis continues, “In my career as a composer, I have devoted myself to the creation of works that bring to light issues of political and social significance. Particularly, my operas have addressed pivotal events and figures in American history with a focus on the issues of race and justice. My first opera, X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X, premiered at New York City Opera in 1986 and was a revolutionary work both in subject matter and musical content. The work treated Malcolm X as a tragic hero who negotiates profound changes of identity from Malcolm Little to Malcolm X and El Hajj Malik el Shabazz.”
“All these works indicate my continued and sustained concern with our ongoing political struggle. These pivotal events in our history offer windows into understanding who we are today and how we arrived at our present situation. The slogan, ‘Black Lives Matter’ is not only an important political statement but it also the central focus of my work as an artist and composer.”
“I continued to explore the political realm in several of my other operas, including Tania, based on the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst, Amistad, based on the rebellion and subsequent trial of Mende captives, Wakonda’s Dream based on the trial of Standing Bear in the 1870’s, and Lilith, a meditation on Adam’s first wife and the eternal conflict of man and woman. It should be noted that both operas X and Amistad preceded the films by Spike Lee and Stephen Spielberg.”
About The Central Park Five:
In the early hours of April 20, 1989, a woman barely clinging to life was discovered in Central Park. Assaulted and left for dead, the 28-year-old jogger, Trisha Meili, would survive grave injuries and a coma with no memory of the events. Within days of the attack, Antron McCray, 15; Kevin Richardson, 14; Yusef Salaam, 15; Raymond Santana, 14; and Kharey Wise, 16 implicated themselves in Meili’s rape and beating after hours of psychological pressure and aggressive interrogation at the hands of seasoned homicide detectives.
The police announced to a press hungry for sensational crime stories that the young men had been part of a gang of teenagers who were out “wilding,” assaulting joggers and bicyclists in Central Park that evening. The ensuing media frenzy was met with a public outcry for justice. The young men were tried, – some as adults – under New York laws of the day – and convicted, despite inconsistent and inaccurate confessions, DNA evidence that excluded them, and no eyewitness accounts that connected them to the victim.
On December 19, 2002, Justice Charles J. Tejada of the Supreme Court of the State of New York granted a motion to vacate the thirteen-year-old convections in the infamous case. He did so based on new evidence: a shocking confession from a serial rapist, Matias Reyes, and a positive DNA match to back it up. A year later, the men filed civil lawsuits against the City of New York and the police officers and prosecutors who had worked toward their conviction. On September 5, 2014, a federal judge approved a settlement in the case for $41 million, supported by Mayor Bill De Blasio. Santana, Salaam, McCray, and Richardson will each receive $7.1 million from the city for their years in prison, while Wise will receive $12.2 million. (source: PBS)
The cast of The Central Park Five includes Derrell Acon as Antron McCray, Jessica Mamey as District Attorney, Cedric Berry as Yusef Salaam, Orson Van Gay as Raymond Santana, Nathan Granner as Khorey Wise, Bernard Holcomb as Kevin Richardson, Zeffin Quinn Hollis as the Masque, Thomas Segen as Donald Trump, along with Babatunde Akinboboye as Raymond’s father, Ashley Faatoalia as Antron’s father, Lindsey Patterson as Yusef’s mother, Joelle Lamarre as Kevin and Antron’s mother.
Tickets for The Central Park Five range from $49 to $150, and can be purchased either by calling the LBO Box Office at 562.470.SING (7464) ext. 1 or by going online to LongBeachOpera.org/Tickets. For information, please visit www.LongBeachOpera.org.