Walnut Street Theatre wraps up their 8 week national tour of Driving Miss Daisy
Walnut Street Theatre
While John Ball’s 1965 novel, In the Heat of the Night, takes place in Alabama, the above signs were still seen throughout much of America during the 1960s as the country grappled with integration and an evolving acceptance of the Civil Rights Movement. This was the era of sit-ins and tear gas, of marches and assassinations. This was the era of Martin Luther King Jr., the Kennedys, and LBJ and an America finally, deliberately, moving towards a future of equality regardless of skin color.
Nearly fifty years later, have we arrived? Perhaps not. Just as Ball’s white, Southern, police Chief Bill Gillespie’s personal prejudices are tested by working with African-American detective Virgil Tibbs, America continues to confront prejudice, stereotyping, and fear.
Playwright and screenwriter Matt Pelfrey sets his riveting stage adaptation of this classic American thriller in the environment of gradual change, rebellion, anger, frustration, and stubborn clinging to old ways of life. Ball’s novel reflected the difficult and personal clashes of the time – the kind of daily encounters that showed ingrained racist attitudes and behaviors. The play demonstrates the slow evolution of attitudes, but leaves the characters, and America, with a long way to go.
In 1967, one year before the Martin Luther King, Jr assassination, Sidney Poitier played Virgil Tibbs in the film In the Heat of the Night directed by Norman Jewison. The big-screen version crossed fraught political lines, marking one of the first times in a motion picture an African American man reacted to – rather than accepted – provocation from a white man. The film won five Academy Awards and spawned a hugely popular television series. In the Heat of the Night remains shockingly emblematic of America in the 1960s, and how, almost half a century later, our nation is still conquering the demon of prejudice.