Synopsis by composer Anthony Davis, shared here with his permission.
PROLOGUE - SCENE 1
“THEY TELL US IN SCHOOL HOW BIG THE WORLD IS.”
LIGHTS UP on: Projected images of newspaper headlines commemorating the exoneration of the Central Park Five; other headlines announcing the settlement of a multi-million dollar lawsuit brought against the City of New York on behalf of The Central Park Five. LOUD CHEERS are heard offstage, strobe lights accompanied by the sound of flashbulbs POPPING, and then quiet. The headlines fade to bare visibility; the strobe lights cease, and five young black men appear: ANTRON McCRAY, KEVIN RICHARDSON, YUSEF SALAAM, RAYMOND SANTANA and KHAREY WISE. They are in their late 20s and early 30s. Their bodies sag with a weight that belies their years. A scrim slides down in front of them, bearing a projection of images from their youth. The Central Park Five sing of a youthful innocence taken from them, of a struggle to remain sane in a world gone mad. I need to know where my life will take me. I wonder, I dream, I need to know… All I want is some peace and quiet. No fuss and bother for me.
Something nice for my mom and pop. If I was to do something like that,would they call me a good son? If I could do that one little thing, how great would I feel? Be a good son and live a good life. But that is not what happened to them. And they look back to see why their dream became deferred.
SCENE 2 “A BLACK AND TAN FANTASY”
LIGHTS UP on: We see video images of Harlem: Broad boulevards and BLACK FACES. Mom and Pop grocery stores, and BLACK FACES. The Apollo Theater and other famous Harlem landmarks, and BLACK BODIES movng an and around them: Old BLACK MEN, Elderly BLACK WOMEN, each wrinkle with a story of its own. Young BLACK ADULTS, sullen, serious, wary; happy, hopeful, playful. Everyday life in Harlem. The Masque appears as a reporter and sings: “Harlem, A Black and Tan Fantasy.” The “Reporters’” impressions are counterpointed by the Central Park Five, who sing, “This is My World,” a Harlem much different than the one “The Reporter” sees. Where the Reporter sees strangeness and foreboding, the Five sing of aspiration, a longing for broader horizons, and of fear that those horizons will never be reached.
SCENE 3 “WE ARE THE FREAKS”
LIGHTS UP on: The stage is bathed in colors of red, purple, dark blue. A hot, summer night; sticky and uncomfortable. THE FIVE appear now as bored teenagers looking for some release. They find themselves swept up into a SWARM of HARLEM YOUTH streaming through the streets and into nearby Central Park singing, “We are the Freaks! We are the Freaks who own the night!,” an ode to defiance and rebellion against the world below Central Park – a world they feel ignores and hates them. The Youths sing, dance and whirl about, becoming more disruptive and restive. “WE ARE THE FREAKS! THIS IS OUR WORLD, AND YOU WILL SEE US!” The Masque, now a policeman, receives calls about incidents in the Park and orders patrol cars to investigate. POLICE SIRENS are heard and THE FIVE flee in all directions.
SCENE 4 “ANIMALS AND MONSTERS!”
LIGHTS UP on: The image of Justice, blind and holding the scales. Another image of the American flag. A third image, distorted, shadowed and impressionistic, of prison bars. A fourth image of a ticking clock. The FIVE are in a holding cell, not knowing why they are there. The Masque, now a police detective, begins to question them. The Masque is relatively benign and considers them no more than a bunch of “crazy kids” up to mischief. But then, he receives a call: A WOMAN has been found brutally beaten in a remote area of Central Park, near Harlem. She may not live. “The Detective” now changes. His attitude is darker and more menacing. The more he presses the boys, the more they deny any involvement in the crime. The interrogation becomes more aggressive and the FIVE finally realize the seriousness of their situation. “It wasn’t me, I swear! This is getting crazy! I want to go home! Where’s my Mother? Where’s my Dad! I didn’t do anything! Please!” The Masque briefs the District Attorney on where the case stands. The District Attorney announces the arrest of five youths in the jogger case at a press conference.
SCENE 5 “THEY WILL RUE THE DAY THEY WERE BORN!”
LIGHTS UP on: The faces of white Americans from all walks of life are projected onto a screen. Donald Trump enters and sings, addresses a group of white supporters who are outraged by the incident in the Park. He sings, “One kid called it ‘wilding,’” His rhetoric inflames supporters. The District Attorney promises to get to the Truth and make the boys confess, “Justice Never Sleeps.” The Masque joins her in her fury with the promise that he will break the boys. “I will be the Monster! I will be the Scourge! I will break these boys! And they will rue the day they were ever born!!”
SCENE 6 “EVERY BLACK KID KNOWS THE RULES”
LIGHTS UP on: THE PARENTS appear worried about the fate of THE FIVE, “Someone has to Pay!” The FIVE sing, “This is Our World.” Their world is now a dangerous, threatening place. “Gotta watch my back, gotta keep My mind sharp. Things can go wrong in a minute. When can I relax? Never. When will I ever catch a break? Did I ever?”
SCENE 7 “THEIR TRUTH, NOT MINE”
LIGHTS UP on: Projected images of, The American Flag, tight close-ups of the eyes of WHITE AMERICANS, BLACK AMERICANS, their backs to the, look back over their shoulders into the lens – suspicious, fearful. The Masque, the District Attorney and Donald Trump appear. The DA prepare for trial, as she feels the pressure from The Masque and Trump and the faces and eyes of the projected images staring down at her. “They must confess. People are afraid. This must never happen again. Our streets must be made safe.” The DA reassures The Masque that The Five are the guilty ones and that they will confess. She confronts each of the Five telling them to implicate each other. “Give me some names, and you can go home.” They have not seen their families and have not eaten. The District Attorney and The Masque play “good cop, bad cop” as they interrogate the boys. The District Attorney appeals to the families of the Five to the boys to turn on each other. “Your son is a good kid.” The boys’ relatives approach each of the Five including Raymond’s Father, Yusef’s mother, Antron’s mother and father, and Korey’s mother. With pressure and fear gripping them- “We believe you. Just get this over with so we can get out of here. Tell them something.” – the boys finally agree to talk. “As long as I leave hereand never come back. What does it matter if I say their truth, not mine?” And using that rationale, the Five begin to tell stories about what happened the night of the assault, each implicating the other; each promised to be released and sent home if he does. Everyone signs the statement except Yusef. The District Attorney has their confessions. “A beautiful young woman will be avenged. The Law will prevail!” The Masque and Trump have their satisfaction: “Our streets will be safe again!” The Masque, The District Attorney and the images of the angry white faces and the suspicious black faces disappear. Only the image of Justice remains. “And justice will be done!”
SCENE 8 (Prelude) “Now We Must Make Things Right!”
LIGHTS UP on: Projected images of the State Court of New York. Images of the Daily News Headlines and The New York Post Headlines of the charges the Five are facing.
Donald Trump meets with the District Attorney as his supporters express their outrage. An image of the infamous advertisement he took out in the newspapers of New York appears, demanding the Death Penalty. Sharonne Salaam sings “They Are Trying to Frame My Son.” Lights change: We are now in the courtroom and The District Attorney turns presents her opening statement to the Jury: “This trial will be a test… “They will play the Race Card. But I will not waver. This is not about Black or White. This is about justice.”
SCENE 10 “Remember The Victim.”
LIGHTS UP on: A hospital bed is backlit. We hear the BEEP BEEP of a heart - monitoring machine. Heavy BREATHING. We can see, a body in the bed, in silhouette. Suddenly, the BODY stirs. There is a soft moan. It is the sound of a woman. The WOMAN sits up in bed.
SCENE 11 “Don’t Cry, Mama. Please Don’t Cry.”
LIGHTS UP on: The Masque tells the boys that The VICTIM is awake. The Central Park Five are ecstatic at the news. They are sure that now that she has regained consciousness, she will take one look at them and know they were not her attackers. “Her voice will win our case. Her strength will lift our spirits. Everything will be settled, once and for all, now that she's awake.” But, the Masque is just as convinced that she will implicate them. “Her strength will lift our spirits. Everything will be settled, once and for all.”
LIGHTS CHANGE to: The District Attorney questions The Victim in court. She does not remember her attackers. The Forensic Officer brings troubling news for the prosecution that none of the DNA matches the boys. The Masque dismisses this news and says it does not matter because the boys have confessed. Again assuming the personality of The Police, he pressures the Five to plead guilty. They refuse. They will not plead guilty to a crime they did not commit. Lights change to: The District Attorney presents her closing argument to the Jury. “The victim cannot identify her attackers. But remember why! Remember her injuries. Remember how she suffered. Remember the most damning evidence of all, their confessions. Signed by them in the presence of their families. If they are innocent, why did they confess? Confessions are all. Confessions are everything.”
The Masque appears now as the Judge and the Jury finds each of the boys guilty as the parents of the Five react in anguished cries. Amid, those anguished cries, and SHOUTS and even CHEERS, The Five are blinded by the flashing lights of photographers as they sing, “Those lights that flash in our eyes. Those reporters shouting questions at us. What is it all about? Why's my life like this? All I am.
All I'll ever be. Is this the end for me?” The lights blot out everything; the Present…and The Future.
SCENE 12 “Five Young Men”
LIGHTS UP as: Yusef’s mother leads a rally in support of the FIVE. They sing, “Who will be next?” “Who will be next? When will it end? Who could be next? Five young men. Our young men. Time and again. When will it end?” But, The Masque is unmoved. The criminals have been found guilty. “The Police have done their jobs. Justice has prevailed. The streets are safe again. All is quiet. All is well.” The projected images of the marches are replaced by images of a baseball game, a Fourth of July parade, a picnic, a happy family in front of a TV set. Images of the FIVE appear and then fade out, replaced by the family in front of a TV set. Life goes on.
SCENE 13 “I’m Free, Starting Over”
Kevin, Raymond, Yusef and Antron are released after serving 7 years in Juvenile Detention. They wonder what the future holds for them.
SCENE 14 “Who’s Going To Pay Me Back?!”
LIGHTS UP on: Thirteen Years Later. Projected images of incarcerated BLACK MEN, prison structures, bleak landscapes. An inmate approaches Kharey. They talk and he reveals something that nearly drops Kharey to his knees:. The inmate is Mattias Reyes and he admits to committing the assault and rape of The Victim. The police had arrested him on another sexual assault charge, but never once asked him anything about the assault in Central Park. “I was in the park, that night. I thought you should know. He said you’ve done thirteen years for nothing!”
Mattias Reyes confesses the crime to THE MASQUE and describes the assault in some detail.
Kharey, realizing he has the key to his freedom, is almost happy – but not quite. The other boys, because of their age, received shorter sentences. They have long since been paroled. But, Kharey, older at the time of his arrest, was tried and convicted as an adult. His sentence was much longer. And for all of that time, he clung relentlessly to the fact of his innocence and refused to ever cop to a plea in exchange for early release. And now, after serving 13 years in prison, he finally has the proof of his innocence. He finally can show the world that he was right, and “they” were wrong. Upon his release, Kharey, now Korey Wise wonders: “Who is going to pay me back?! Who’s gonna to put back the chunks of me that were ripped out?!”
SCENE 15 “The World Is Ours”
The FIVE have been exonerated.
The images of Black and white Rage again appear onscreen. Donald Trump emerges onstage: “They were wilding in the Park that night.The city owes them nothing! Nothing but a cell! They were lucky they weren’t put to death!”
The D.A. still believe that the FIVE are guilty: “Mattias Reyes was there with Antron, Raymond, Kevin and Yusef. And Korey too. It is the only way this all this makes sense!”
The Black Lives Matter supporters ask: “What is the cost of Justice?”
The Masque declares: “We can’t be wrong. Or, so we thought. We took away all those years from these five young men! What is the cost of all they have they lost? How do we move to a new day?”
The stage goes black. Lights come up to reveal the images of the Central Park Five as the teens they were in 1992. Behind the scrim, as at the beginning of the opera, the Central Park Five as adults. The images of the youthful 5 disappear and the scrim rises to reveal
The FIVE as adults: “The World is ours... We’re still here… getting stronger every day…Struggling and striving, we’re gonna make it!..The World is ours. We’re gonna make it all the way back!...Harlem!...And we’ve finally come home.”
Synopsis by Anthony Davis, shared here with his permission.