Scripter-thesp James McEachin has culled through his prodigious output of books, CDs and DVDs, distilling a lifetime of contemplation on his life as an African-American and a decorated U.S. Army veteran of the Korean War. “Above the Call” offers an endearing, thought-provoking journey through one man’s concept of patriotism. The production is poignantly underscored by the inclusion of two short videos, the first-act opening “Old Glory” and the second-act starter, “Memorial Day,” both scripted and helmed by McEachin.
The opening video introduces the Old Vet (McEachin), a ghost who embarks on a quest to don his old uniform, salute his flag and revisit instances from his past. As the video ends, McEachin’s Old Vet takes to the stage to offer a series of humor-filled, understated soliloquies to make sense of his life before he makes his final appearance before God.
McEachin, who has forged a successful acting career in television and film, is a confident, folksy storyteller, offering telling portrayals: his stern but insightful grandfather; a pair of Martians puzzling over the human propensity for derogatory language such as the “N-word”; an enraged bigot railing against President Truman’s 1948 edict that ended segregation within the U.S. Armed Forces; and a loving father and dedicated pacifist, who is nonetheless overcome with pride when his daughter returns home from serving in Iraq.
One haunting highlight is a reminiscence from his youth, focusing on 10-year-old Superman Talmadge, a neighborhood child who believes he can fly. McEachin recreates the bravado and folly of boys who dare boys, leading to a horrific tragedy, yet glorying in the spirit of a lad who so tenaciously believes in himself.
Act two more specifically focuses on a tribute to those who have placed their lives in harm’s way in service to their country. Recalling one of the most disgraceful incidents in U.S. military history (chronicled in his book, “Farewell to the Mockingbirds”), McEachin re-creates the speech of a black sergeant addressing his all-African-American troops as they are about to be hanged after a rioting incident in 1917 Houston. He also recalls his own medal-earning firefight in Korea when a badly wounded MeEachin was carried to safety by a “blond-headed guy” he never saw again.
“Above the Call” is unabashedly agenda driven. Utilizing his gifts as a writer and performer, McEachin is dedicated to conveying a message of pride on behalf of veterans. His summation: “No veterans, no democracy. No democracy, no America.”