KSU staff member’s second play, “Whitesville” opens March 31

Benjamin Weaver, Reporter

Do you remember where you were on May 25, 2020, when George Floyd was killed? Do you remember having conversations about race with friends and family?

The cast of “Whitesville” does a script read-through. (Courtesy of Francine Parr)

“Whitesville,” a play written by Eric Mansfield, assistant vice president of communications and marketing assistant at Kent State, focuses on conversations regarding the controversy and aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. In addition to this play, Mansfield wrote “Love in the Reserve” which was put on in Nov. 2021 at the Rubber City Theatre.

“Whitesville” will be shown in collaboration with the Millennial Theater Project at the Akron Civic Theater.

The play focuses on the Claytons, a mixed-race family in rural Indiana. Meredith and Max Clayton adopted Isabelle and Jason, both are Black teenagers. The Claytons struggle to see eye-to-eye about the murder of George Floyd in their rural Indiana town, Winesville, known as “Whitesville” because of the town’s small population of Black residents.

“They hear his voice. The audience will hear George Floyd’s actual words and, hear him say, ‘I can’t breathe,’ hear him call for his mother,” Mansfield said. “Those kinds of things I think will take the audience right to the moment, the first time they saw that happen. And then immediately, this family is at odds with one another about what they just saw.”

Eric Mansfield, writer of “Whitesville,” speaks to the cast and crew of the production. (Courtesy of Francine Parr)

The family is divided when Isabella and Jason participate in Black Lives Matter marches and protests while Max, a police captain, is on the other side of the argument. Meredith is left stuck in the middle.

Mansfield reached out to many sources to help him make the writing as close to the Black experience in the United States as possible.

“There are young people, there are old people, male, female, white and Black who’ve all weighed in on the story, certainly on the language, the dialog and the way the characters are formed,” Mansfield said.

Mansfield consulted the play’s director, Francine Parr, a Black woman who was adopted when she was younger by a white family, for help with the play. Parr had to have similar conversations with her parents as the two teens do with their parents.

“I can tell that [Mansfield] had the conversations with the people that he needed to have the conversations with to get that authentic and natural conversation flow of what these kids are experiencing and how they’re trying to explain that to their parents,” Parr said.

Tyron Hoisten, who plays the cop Larry, gives an interview. (Courtesy of Francine Parr)

Other characters outside the family join the discussions and offer unique perspectives. One is Larry, a Black police officer, played by Tyron Hoisten. Larry is a voice of wisdom and reason throughout the play, Hoisten said.

“He’s in this interesting place where … he knows about being a police officer. and what it means to be a police officer and how conflicting that can be at times,” Hoisten said. “He also understands being Black and the frustration that could come with what’s just happened with George Floyd.”

Mansfield and Parr said that they both hope the play will begin conversations and people will discuss the play more after they leave.

“I hope people in the audience will keep talking about it when it’s over. We’re talking about issues that are there, and I think they’re going to be very pleased with the production itself” Mansfield said.

The play will run daily at 8 p.m. from March 31 through April 2. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online at the Akron Civic Theater’s website. Masks are not required but are strongly encouraged.

Benjamin Weaver is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected]