In Fishers of Men, Martin "Bats" Bradford plays Dabarrow, a drug dealer who explodes with anger and laughter while telling a story about a crack addict he killed. Jumping out of his chair, he mocks the young victim's zombielike staggering and shock at being shot. It's part of an animated confession to a deacon.
Dabarrow doesn't feel much remorse about the boy, who had stolen from him, but he knows how it affected his mother, who he saw two days later, looking "ashy" and suddenly older. That stuck with him.
Bradford debuted the role in 2012 in a short run at Dillard University, before he became a recurring character on NCIS: New Orleans. In a remount at Ashe Cultural Arts Center, the entire cast returns, including former New Orleans City Council President Oliver Thomas.
In the drama, Dabarrow (Bradford) and Vic (Damien Moses) are young New Orleans drug dealers who are looking to get away from the violence of the streets. The man offering to show them the way is Bishop Perriloux (Thomas), pastor of a mega-church. Perriloux has achieved social stature and wealth through his ministry, but he is capable of reaching out to young men because of his familiarity with the streets; he's a former pimp.
"He reaches out to people we might want to run away from," says Harold Clark, an author and host of a weekly talk show on WYLD-FM. "He sees himself in people."
Perriloux leads an unconventional ministry, and its deacons comb the streets at night, reaching out to lost souls. Deacon Job (Alfred Aubrey) brings back men like Dabarrow, who can quote Scripture from his years in church but has made a living on the street, himself recruiting boys to sell drugs. He's killed rivals, meted out his own justice and is aware of the toll he's taken on others' lives.
"Watching Martin's character — it's the struggle between humanity and cold-bloodedness," Thomas says.
At rehearsal, Bradford, Thomas and Aubry all said they know someone very similar to the character they play.
Thomas, who wrote the drama Reflections about his experiences after he pled guilty to taking a bribe, interviewed young men in jail. Many criminals followed what they understood to be the rules by which to live and survive, he says.
"It's man's law versus natural law," Thomas says. "Some people never get a second chance because they never had a first chance."
"That's what (David Simon's) The Wire did for a lot of people," Bradford says. "It showed the humanity of people who you wouldn't think about."
The play is Ashe Cultural Arts Center's first production at its theater. The production is being remounted at a time when its issues of ending cycles of violence and incarceration are in the news.
Clark notes that his father is a minister, who later in life married the stepmother of the Rev. John Raphael, the policeman-turned-minister who held anti-violence vigils on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard prior to his death in 2013. Raphael is part of the inspiration behind Perriloux.
In January, Clark's We Live Here debuted at Playhouse in the Square in Memphis, where it won a new play competition. In March, his civil rights-era drama Uncle Bobby '63 was a finalist for the Stanley Drama Award, given out by New York City's The Players Club. His latest work is Madame Thames's Spirit Bar, and he's working on a sequel to Fishers, following Perriloux and the Deacon's mission.