Actor Martin Bakari gives “Wise Blood” new vision


An opera exhibition by Anthony Gatto and Chris Larson

The World Premiere, presented by The Soap Factory and The Walker Art Center

Based on Flannery O’Connor’s 1952 Southern Gothic novel, “Wise Blood” transformed The Soap Factory gallery into a non-traditional walkthru performance space. The large scale installations/sets were built by Minneapolis multi-media artist Chris Larson and director Michael Sommers into a place of unusual false perception and illusory wonders unlike any we’d experienced before.

The unusual wonders of the space are not the only thing special about this opera exhibition.

The railroad jarringly clangs, and Hazel Motes, played by African American tenor Martin Bakari, clad in a peacock blue shiny suit, rants at the conductor “I ain’t going to Taulkinham!”

Bakari reflected for the TC Daily Planet on learning his role as Hazel Motes, and transforming it to fit who he is as a person.

“I did not have familiarity of Flannery O’Connor or “Wise Blood” [at first]…If you read the book you’ll know, someone like myself would generally not play this character. Some of the racial elements have been taken out of this piece, for example for a person of color, in the South, at this time period. To be playing this character, in this world, it was essential to me,” Bakari said.

“This character is quite unlike me,” Bakari added. “He is quite bitter and disturbed and cynical. These are things I’d hope not to associate with myself. For me, it was hard to find reasons as to why this man is this way, so I wasn’t just a caricature of this angry bad guy. But rather the man is this way because of the formidable experiences he’d had in war, in his very difficult and abusive upbringing. He’s not just a bad guy.”

“He’s something we tend to overlook – there aren’t really bad people in the world. There are people who become what they are because of experiences they’ve had,” Bakari said. “To try to be some sort of cartoon character, the bad guy is neither true nor interesting for an audience. When they see a real human, its more engaging and they’re more interested in following your journey because they’re invested.”

On the unusual immersive aspect of the audience physically following the performance, Bakari observed, “I’ve done so many things at this point, it’s going to be hard for something to feel strange. It’s unusual in that I’m not accustomed to having to almost swim through audience members to get from Point A to Point B. Or having to trust the intuition of the audience members to get out of the way of my car as I’m driving through a mass of people. But it’s actually really wonderful in that, they’re right there, there is no fourth wall, and I can communicate with them directly. Especially with the nature of this piece, and the nature of my character. I’m a preacher and I have my very own congregation, of these people who are gathered around my car, while I’m standing on it and shouting for an hour and a half, each night.”

Bakari concluded of this new opera experience, “Like many new operas I’ve done, there’s really a wonderful opportunity to really create something that’s true to yourself and not worry about the traditions of 100 or 200 years, where people have in mind what a character should act like and sound like. To really just create a character that’s true to you, is something that I cherish.”


[This showing of “Wise Blood” is sold out at this time.]