John Wilkes Booth stands in the center of the stage, flanked by the presidential assassins and would-be presidential assassins whofollow him in a thin line of carnage stretching from 1865 to 1981.
“Everybody’s got the right to be happy,” he sings.
The stage and tone are set, half carnival midway, half dinner theater, as these historical figures— Charles Guiteau, who killed James Garfield in 1881; Leon Czolgosz, who killed William McKinley in 1901; Giuseppe Zangara, who tried to kill Franklin Roosevelt in 1933; Samuel Byck, who tried to kill Richard Nixon in 1974; Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore, who made separate attempts on Gerald Ford’s life in 1975; and John Hinkley, who shot Ronald Reagan in 1981 — mingle together in a theatrical present. A minute or so later, they’re all singing together: “Everyone’s got the right to their dreams.”
There’s a glaring exception to that list, of course. But you know it’s coming.
When Diane Petaway visited her grandmother in the 1950s in the Dixwell neighborhood, she never knew about Curry’s Confectionery, a sweet shop whose chocolates were so delicious local white merchants sold them as their own. They carried the subterfuge as far as to require James and Ethel Curry to deliver their candies at night so customers would not know the original candy makers were African-American.
At the end of his band’s set, lead vocalist Hnry Flwr came off the stage at Cafe Nine with an acoustic guitar to play a song solo. He said was about context, noting it was “special when I sing it in New Haven.”
“The meaning lies in the context,” Flwr sang. But the Brooklyn-based Hnry Flwr had already set the context on Tuesday evening. The triple bill of Flwr, The Ferdy Mayne, and hometown heroes Elison Jackson turned Cafe Nine into a rest stop for these touring bands — who were continuing on to Boston and Philadelphia — and a respite for weary friends eager for spring to truly begin.
Shakespearian actress Valerie Johnson was on a gurney, blood trickling from a gash on her face onto her corset. After sustaining a backstage injury, she’d waited three hours for a medical professional.
When Dr. Jackson Moore showed up, Johnson assumed he was a nurse — because he was black. Moore, in return, assumed she’d been Johnson had been beaten — because she was black, too.