It's a challenge to fit 40 years of a life into a two-hour play, but playwright Brian Grandison does an admirable job. We don't spend too long in any phase of Melvin's life, but through it all we get the picture of a man. The play begins at a pivotal moment during his service in the Navy, and then we flash back to his life as a boy growing up in St. Paul's Rondo neighborhood in a large and loving, but strict, family. When I94 was built right through the heart of Rondo, the Carter family was forced to move from the home that his great-uncles bought when they first moved North in the early 20th Century, escaping danger in the South. We follow Melvin through his troubled teen years (fighting and getting into scrapes) and back to that pivotal moment in the Navy, then forward into his decision to join the St. Paul police force (after they were forced to hire more Black officers after a 1972 lawsuit), his marriage and children, and the founding of the organization Save Our Sons. It's a story of courage, perseverance, and a life lived in service to others.
|Calvin Zimmerman as young Melvin with|
the ensemble (photo by Rick Spaulding)
|Mikell Sapp as Melvin with the ensemble (photo by Rick Spaulding)|
I was lucky enough to attend the show on a day when they had a talkback with the cast, creative team, and the man himself. Mr. Carter is obviously a great storyteller and a jokester, and the play captures that spirit. He's a humble man, saying he just tried to be the best version of himself that he could be, but also aware that his story represents a larger story, that of the history of America, and particularly Black Americans, in the 20th Century. A version of the American Dream in a country that doesn't hand that dream equally to all its citizens, yet he succeeded nonetheless. As noted in the talkback, he and his wife Toni (former Ramsey County Commissioner, the first Black female commissioner in the state) raised a mayor - what's better than that? A mayor that's a descendent of the thriving Black community called Rondo that was disrupted but not destroyed by the construction of a freeway, and lives on in ordinary and extraordinary families like the Carters.