Deanna Bowen and Russell Bennett play a jounalist and a Klansman in The Paul Good Papers.
DEANNA BOWEN at Gallery 44 (401 Richmond West), to April 21. Performances daily at 1 pm. 416-979-3941. See listing. Rating: NNNN
The paul good papers, co-presented by the Images Festival, is part of Deanna Bowen's ongoing research into the links between racism and the civil rights movement in the U.S. and Canada.
A descendant of African Americans who immigrated to Canada from Alabama around 1900, Bowen is working toward a show next year at the Art Gallery of York University that brings together the many strands of her project.
At Gallery 44, in a room displaying a 1965 Saturday Evening Post spread on the Ku Klux Klan and a poster for a Klan rally, the show's centrepiece unfolds: the daily performance of an interview by Paul Good (played by Bowen), a U.S. journalist and civil rights supporter, with KKK Imperial Wizard Robert Shelton (actor Russell Bennett).
Shelton tries to represent the Klan as a law-abiding pro-segregation organization, but menace leaks through, especially in an ominous clip of Shelton's own voice foretelling the assassination of Martin Luther King. Bowen and Bennett plan to comment on the text and experiment with different ways of playing it over the course of the show.
In a second room, the focus is on the 1964 high school integration campaign in Notasulga, Alabama, and Klan members' beating of a photographer covering it. A mostly imageless video with vertical lines and splotches includes audio that Good surreptitiously recorded at the Notasulga demonstration and an interview with the mayor, who, like Shelton, puts up a law-abiding front.
If the Klan, with its bizarre outfits and titles, lives on both organizationally and in the public imagination, these documents of the struggle seem to have barely survived the attempt to suppress them. Faded black-and-white footage of a young white woman, perhaps a student at the closed high school, singing along with the Beatles, suggests what lies beneath rosy memories of the era.
Changes in the dialogue about racism over time and the performance of a white man by a black woman add layers of meaning to the historical material.