Friday, November 20, 2009

Carbon Black by Terry Gomez (Comanche)

by Joe Straw

Someone stands yelling on the corner shouting words that make no sense. Passing by, you think about him for a moment and then move on not completely understanding why this planet is made up of crazy people. But, they are on the streets, in our schools, and in our homes. Sometimes standing right next to you feeling your thoughts and mentally addressing your needs.

Carbon Black written by Terry Gomez and directed by Randy Reinholz is an experience that you will remember for a long time and cherish the performances for the rest of your days. It is part of the 10th Anniversary Season of Native Voices playing at the Autry Theatre.

Carbon “Inky” Black (Michael Drummond) is a very curious 13-year-old boy (a little off centered) living with his mother Sylvie (Sheila Tousey) outside of Albuquque, New Mexico. They live by the barest of means in an upper level apartment of a low rent-housing unit. Squatting among the thousands of scraps of paper that litter the floor, the room has a thickness of being lived in for an extended period of time. Hunger greets their every move.

They sit; like couch potatoes and watch the news about disaster, grief, and destruction. Someone out on the streets is abducting small children and causing great harm and it’s no place for them to be.

Carbon has been absent from school for eight days. Sleeping on his balcony, he has been a witness to the murder of a little girl and feels somewhat responsible for not helping her. But, that is the second thing on his agenda. The first is taking care of his mother the best way he knows how by scrounging the neighborhood in search of food which drives Sylvie into a panic so profound you must wonder: is she one of “those people?”

There is a knock at the door. It is the vice-principal, Bodell Tucker (Stephan Wolfert), a cold calculating man. A person with a handicap and so rankled by the handicap he is evil in spirit and mean to those around him. His left arm permanently clutched to his chest and his left leg almost a useless appendage.

Tucker is a taskmaster at getting the job done – only his way. He wants that boy back in school or there will be a price to pay. He slips the note under the door and demands the boy be returned to school.

Sylvie says, “Don’t open that letter. It’s got anthrax!” So emotional she buries her head into the bookcase waiting for the pending disaster.

Carbon, with great care, breaks from the house and returns to school where he is treated like a common criminal by Tucker and sent to the see Lisa Yellowtree (Tonantzin Carmelo) the guidance counselor. She has a hard time getting through to him but eventually warms up to his makeup and discovers his character.

Yellowtree’s life is not what is appears to be. Through this seemingly normal exterior beats a life that is tortured beyond comprehension, a single mother with a severely handicapped child and a demanding job that crushes the life out of her. Her saving grace is that she really cares for the poor misfortunate students.

Later in the play Carbon Black disappears and those around him desperately tried to find him and also to find answers to their wretched miserable lives.

Tousey is engaging as Sylvie. It is hard to warm up to someone who you honestly think needs help but in the end you understand and you’re with her all the way. Love carries her out the door and it is amazing to see.

Drummond is a very peculiar actor, very engaging, and unique in his way.

Carmelo gives us a life searching for a better answer. She is an answer to those who don’t yet have the questions.

Wolfert as Bodell Tucker gives a great performance. One would have expected him to be a “little” handicapped, but no that was just his performance. He did something near the end of the performance that was the “Oh” moment.

Terry Gomez, a Native American, writes a compelling play that gives purpose to the lives of the less fortunate. Whatever makes these people what they are, they do have one thing in common, they care.

Randy Reinholz (Choctaw), the director and Artistic Director, has done an admirable job. When you leave the theatre you have an “Oh” moment. “Oh, that’s why they did that.” And if you’re thinking about the play days and weeks later, then he’s done his job.

November 7-22, 2009

Native Voice at the Autry
4700 Western Heritage WayLos Angeles, CA 90027-1462

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