Monday, November 14, 2022

Political Theatre for Pre-Programmed Audiences: Parade and Straight Line Crazy

Micaela Diamond and Ben Platt in Parade at New York City Center. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

The 1998 musical Parade, written by Alfred Uhry (book) and Jason Robert Brown (music and lyrics), dramatizes the notorious case of Leo Frank, who was framed for the 1913 rape and murder of Mary Phagan, a thirteen-year-old who worked in the factory he superintended in Marietta, Georgia. Frank was a Brooklyn Jew who went South to marry and manage his father-in-law’s business. His trial, manipulated by anti-Semitic forces, ended in a guilty verdict and a death sentence that was commuted to life in prison by the governor, John Slaton, in view of evidence that the prosecutor, Hugh Dorsey, had coaxed witnesses to lie on the stand. But Frank didn’t live to see that new evidence generate a new trial – he was lynched in 1915. Historical scholarship points to Jim Conley, a Black janitor in the factory who provided the most damning testimony against Frank, as the likely killer.  The Frank case had the ironic double effect of reanimating the KKK in Georgia and giving birth to the Anti-Defamation League. (And Dorsey followed Slaton straight into the Governor’s mansion.)