Spotlight: Zooman and the Sign

Ann Marsden

Charles Fuller's drama opens with the young Zooman (Ahanti Young) delivering a soliloquy to the audience, peppered with nihilism and profanity, about all of the folks he enjoys beating and slicing through the course of his days. The latest, he explains, is a little girl on her front porch whom he gunned down while intending to shoot his rivals. Calling her a "little bitch," he curses her for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The action then segues inside, where the girl's parents, Rueben (James Craven) and Rachel (Faye M. Price), are aflame with shock and grief. When none of their neighbors are willing to step forward and describe the shooter, Rueben plants a sign in front of his house decrying their cowardice. While Penumbra first produced this stripped-down scenario during its 1982-83 season (with Price in the same role), the crushing waste of gun violence is far from gone, and this script narrows its reality to a hard core. For this concept to work, Rueben and Rachel's grief has to find a balance in Zooman's gradually emerging fear and vulnerability, and director Lou Bellamy's cast strikes the right notes. Young delivers his monologues to the audience with accompanying stare-downs and a sense of bristling agitation. He's despicable talking about the girl he gunned down, then flashes with boyish warmth when evoking his own kid sister's birthday. Craven laces a father's grief with glimpses of a man whose life has become all what-ifs, and Price's weary resignation lifts for the only two reactions readily available to Rachel: heartbreak and horror. (At one point she looks out over their street and pronounces, "This neighborhood is dead," with withering iciness). Finally, the world begins to close in on Zooman, as Young paints a portrait of increasing desperation, and the ending has its own terrible logic. A quarter-century after the play's creation, it remains--regrettably a still-vital commentary rather than a historical curio.

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