Sunday, February 24, 2013

Black Women: State of The Union, Taking Flight by Tanya Alexander-Henderson, Kellie Dantzler, Sigrid Gilmer, Penelope Lowder, and Lisa B. Thompson

by Joe Straw

"Police officers should be taught controlled breathing from day one in training to the point where it becomes so automatic they do it without thinking. They should be given the opportunity to practice it during stress-inducing reality-based training scenarios. If we don't provide officers with this type of stress-inoculation training, we are not adequately preparing them to perform well in an actual situation." Alexis Artwohl, Ph.D. -

By Joe Straw

She sat there, an iconic figure in a rocker, old and decrepit, with a quilt over her tired legs. She was born a slave, a beautiful smiling girl.  Now she rocks as an aging free woman with a sharp mind.  She has forgiven but she has not forgotten.

Her brown fingers hold on to the quilt covering her legs. And that quilt is a patchwork of faces, dedicated to those that have died through appalling inequalities.  To lessen the pain in her conscience being, and her legs, she rocks, and rocks, all the while singing a song of lament.  Each year, the quilt gets larger and heavier.  And at times, the emotional weight is too much for her legs to bear, so she lifts, with all of her might, covering the tears that stream down her face and muffling the anguish of her sobs.

There is a lot of imagery in the short play, “I Don’t Want To Be,” by Lisa B. Thompson and directed by Ayana Cahrr.  For me, theatre is a visual connection and there is a lot of visual imagery in Cahrr’s vision to hold onto.

The short play starts with the mothers of the fallen, wearing hoodies; waking up in the night screaming from the nightmare that is their life. Their son’s names deserve repeating.

Oscar Grant – shot by an Oakland Bart police officer.

Sean Bell – shot multiple times by plain-clothed and undercover NYPD officers.

Amadou Diallo – shot 19 times by NYPD plain-clothed police officers.

Trayvon Martin – shot by George Zimmerman.

“No one wants to be a part of this circle. I don’t want to belong.  I wanted to be just like you, laughing.  I dream just like you.”

The visible ray of hope comes through dialogue.  The everlasting wounds are deep, and though time heals wounds, no one ever forgets.

Michelle Flowers, Kila Kitu, Lonyé Perrine, Lee Sherman, and Tamika Simpkins make up this terrific ensemble. My one suggestion is to make the ending stronger as to stamp an indelible impression on the viewer.

Black Women State of The Union Taking Flight by Tanya Alexander-Henderson, Kellie Dantzler, Sigrid Gilmer, Penelope Lowder, and Lisa B. Thompson is taking this particular show on the road.  Produced by BWSOTU and Gary Grossman and this time it is downtown at the Company of Angels but by the time you read this it will have moved on, hopefully, to a theatre near you.

The Follicle Prison War – by Penelope Lowder  

The Follicle Prison War by Penelope Lowder and also directed by Ayana Cahrr is lighter fair, a comedy, with serious undertones.

The play takes place in an area of civil unrest, police or national guards patrolling the neighborhood and helicopters flying overhead. Dawn Fantasta (Lee Sherman), a racially ambiguous movie star, is skirting from door to door, hiding behind the cover of her sunglasses and scarf.  She wants owner, Melanie Harker (Kila Kitu), to open her wig shop so that she can get extensions that her admiring public want to see her wearing and which have made her famous.  But Melanie sets a high price that must be paid before letting the items go and will not part with the extensions until that price is paid.

But is that it? Or is there more here? Is it that Melanie needs her price or that she wants Fantasta to come out and not be racially ambiguous? Tell us who you are and be proud, she seems to be saying, especially during these trouble times, and then you can buy the extensions.

One aspect that doesn’t quite work is the note because the time is short and it is too much to grasp in this short play.   Still, the acting from Lee Sherman and Kila Kitu is incredible and the work was very nice.

Evolutionary by Kellie Dantzler

Directed by Ayana Cahrr, this short play tells the story of a mother (Kila Kitu) and a daughter (Lonyé Perrine) in the last days of the mother’s life, an activist in the Civil Rights Movement.  In all honesty, the mother was probably the Civil Rights Movement from the way she is treated by her daughter. And while her mother’s time is near, her daughter believes it is the end of an era, her mother’s era, and she weeps at the thought of losing an important member of her family.   But her mother has another lesson to teach; she has brought her daughter a gift, which she cannot open until the time is right and the lesson is taught.  

Kila Kitu is very funny in this short play and Lonyé Perrine holds her own in this wonderful short.

15 Min. by Penelope Lowder

Sometimes relationships begin in a nicely timed moment, a peek into the soul of loveliness, a desperate attempt to grasp the moment and not let go.  Nicely directed by Kila Kitu, “15 Min” is about two people, brought together for 15 minutes, in the hopes they may become a couple.   The couple does not seem to get along at the start.  Samantha (Lonyé Perrine) is up for the meeting, while her counterpart Colin (Hari Williams), an investment banker, thinks it is a mistake. He is not into black women and prefers Anglo women, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, German, Irish, Norwegians, Cuban, Serbian, anything but black. But his inflexible preference has the inconsistency of sand and this makes for a very comedic encounter and a very nice ending.

The work by Hari Williams and Lonyé Perrine is superior.

Austen Jaye an alternate cast member who plays Colin was not there the night I came.

Black Simulacra by Sigrid Gilmer

Nataki Garrett directed Black Simulacra—in a story of people/actresses. Woman 1 (Tamika Simpkins) and Woman 2 (Michelle Flowers), possibly two professionals, who are trying to work out a scene or processing an emotional issue. In any case, simulacra is a made up name—part simulation, part Lycra—a fabric worn about the head as a wig cap.

This seems to be a scene from The Help, adapted.  Sigrid Gilmer has a very offbeat sense of humor, some things I get and others, well um, I don’t.  Lucille (Lee Sherman) enters wearing a lab coat at the end of the exercise as though this were an experiment that needs some slight adjustments.

I enjoyed this short play as it was filled with a lot of humor, conflict, and specific characters that only want the best, for themselves. Ironically enough, it’s the blond wig that sets the conflict going in different directions.

Ritual by Tanya Alexander-Henderson

There are times when waking up that the slightest variance of daily life becomes a sign.  My day is regimented to the nth degree, so mistakenly running into a wall becomes a significant sign of the foreshadowing events to follow.   

Director Ayana Cahrr tells the story of a woman (Michelle Flowers) who needs to say the right thing to get out of bed and start her day. Two angels, Woman 1 (Lee Sherman) and Woman 2 (Tamika Simpkins)—who are strong, smart, and beautiful, prod her out of bed to face the day.  But the words are not right and the head goes back to the pillow until a substitute can be found.  

Ayana Cahrr, the director of “I Don’t Want To Be”, “The Follicle War”, “Evolutionary”, and “Ritual” really does some magnificent work.  The women are strong, intelligent, and focused in their objectives and are guided marvelously.

Kila Kitu, the director of “15 Min.” shows a strong hand in directing two wonderful actors.  There is this constant battle that never lets up until there is a resolution.  Nicely done!

Nataki Garrett, the director of “Black Simulacra”, did a fine job with Sigrid Gilmer’s words. One would need to get into Gilmer’s mindset to completely understand her perspective, but Garrett succeeds.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Production Stage Manager – Christopher Hoffman
Lighting & Set Design – Justin Huen
Costumes – Lee Sherman
Sound Engineer – Kila Kitu

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