The Palace Theatre was turned impromptu courtroom when senior Jamil Jude’s production of Ballard v. State was performed on Wednesday, April 1 and Thursday, April 2, to a full and excited audience. The play, written and directed by Jude, focused on the story of a young black man, Tony Ballard, who is wrongly accused and sentenced to jail for the rape of a young white woman. The play then followed Ballard after he gets out of jail and the tragic effects that he faces as both an ex-convict and a black man in a white society.
“It’ll take you on a roller coaster ride on stage,” Jamil said to the audience before the show began. He urged all to think about the issues that Ballard v. State brings forth, something I think everyone in the audience couldn’t help but do once the play ended.
Said to “explore the life of a young man’s struggle with the criminal justice system…challeng[ing] how our judicial system prosecutes people for their crimes and how they prepare these ‘offenders’ for life beyond the prison cells,” Ballard v. State was definitely a thought provoking piece. As audience members hear of Tony Ballard’s troubles, learning that the “rape” he is being put on trial for was actually consensual, but watching him be sentenced to five years of jail, anyway (a ruling that startled audience members less by its outcome and more by the sudden shouts and loud objections that came from secretly placed actors sitting amid the crowds), sympathy for the troubled man is almost instantaneous. The theme of illusions of justice and equality in modern society are only further shown when the audience sees Ballard again, now done with his five-year sentence, coming home. His house plastered with insulting protest signs, his mother’s worries about his life getting ruined even more and his failure to secure a job due to his past record are just a few of the injustices that Ballard faces. The play ends on a tragic climax when Ballard and his friend, Lomas Tucker, are shot and killed by the police after being thought to be pulling a gun after a robbery gone wrong.
A brilliant collaboration between prose and poetry, Ballard v. State was not your average stage production, just as it was not your average story. The mix of Jude’s original script with the poetry of Colgate’s own student group, Poetically Minded, made the play unique and gave it a certain significant aspect that elevated the production to new heights. The script flowed perfectly with the lyric poetry and gave a deeper insight into the characters and themes of the play.
The actors were clearly enthusiastic and involved in the production, though the occasional poignant pauses in their speeches sometimes left me wondering whether they were giving the audience time in order to let their words sink in, or were simply trying to remember their next line. Still, the production as a whole could not be faulted. Every aspect of the show connected and succeeded in getting its point across.
“It is my hope that this play can be an opportunity to open up conversations about these issues and be a medium in which we can be critical of the current systems we have in place,” Jude said in his director’s note.
Whether these conversations occur or not, it cannot be said that Ballard v. State didn’t give material enough to start them.