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We Were There

We Were There: Texas In Paris

Andrew Shade

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This edition of We Were There was written by Larry Powell. A skilled actor and budding writer in his own right. He attended a performance of “Texas In Paris” at the York Theatre Company which starred Lillias White, whom he recently shared the stage with in Billy Porter‘s “While I Yet Live“. Read his experience of the show below. This show closes on March 1st.

As cold as it’s been it’s always nice to find someplace warm where you can enjoy yourself for a moment but it’s especially nice when you find yourself in the midst of something special.  That’s what happened to us on the night we witnessed Alan Govenar’s “Texas In Paris,” at the York Theater Company.  This 80-minute show is filled with music and well-crafted moments that will make you laugh a good laugh at one moment and shed a good tear the next.  The play is performed without an intermission but it doesn’t feel long at all.  I always credit that to great direction and performances and it’s as true here as ever.

This is a musical play about a couple of fine musicians from the Texas south who get a chance to tour France in 1989 playing their Southern Spirituals and Cowboy Songs.  Their names are Osceola Mays and John Burrus and they are a joy to spend a hour and a half with.  Based on true events, the playwright, Govenar writes fully realized characters who actually talk to each other as they really would in that time.  Govenar actually produced the real tour and was as much apart of these people’s lives as they were his.  This anchors the conversations and events of the play in authenticity which eases the audience into the deeper levels of the relationship between the two artists.

Lillias White plays Osceola Mays a good, down-home black woman from South Dallas who was the granddaughter of a slave.  Osceola is full of humor, honesty, and history.  Ms. White tributes Ms. Mays with such a nuanced and gracefully powerful performance that it truly sets the room on fire.  It is very easy to believe that this character could actually tour France and play Paris with great success… because well, Lillias White can do just that.  A Tony Award Winner, she is one of the great talents of our time.  Ms. White has the audience in the palm of her had with her timing and tone both in her singing of the spirituals and playing of the scenes.  It’s particularly the way she tells the story through her songs that truly communicates the heartbeat of the piece.  She sings every song a capella but if you listen closely you’ll hear a band of angels playing along with her.  By time she sings “Oh Freedom” there’s not a dry eye in the house.

 

John Burrus, a former rodeo cowboy– a white cowboy, is the other half of the duo and is also beautifully realized by Scott Wakefield.  Scott has a quiet strength about him that grounds the piece in a totally different way and it’s at times chilling.  It takes a great musician to tango with the great likes of Lillias White and Mr.Wakefield is perfect.  He plays  his instruments live (guitar, banjo, harmonica) and sings his cowboy songs with such humor and passion that you may stop and question… wait, he’s an actor right?  This isn’t actually John Burrus is it?  His performance is beautiful and honest.

Texas In Paris” is a lesson in the simplicity of storytelling.  There is power in just having two people on stage sharing stories with one another.  Especially when these two people, on a normal day in society, would have never been able to do it.  Plays about race can get a little preachy at times and after awhile you get tired of it but not here.  By the end of the play, the skillful and precise direction of Akin Babatubde guides the audience to a wonderful moment in time.  It’s a moment where two great artists who at first were strangers to one another find understanding through compassion, joy, and a love for music.  You may find yourself leaving The York Theater ready to talk to someone on the ride home… someone you’ve never thought of talking to before… and that’s a good thing… a real good thing.

Larry Powell

Founder/Editor-In-Chief of BroadwayBlack.com | Actor | Artist | 1/3 of @OffBookPodcast | Theatre connoisseur | All Audra Everything | Caroline over Change | I'm Not Charl Brown | Norm Lewis is my play cousin | Producing an all-black production of Mame starring Jenifer Lewis in my head

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Reviews

Ngozi Anyanwu’s Good Grief — Review

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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Ngozi Anyanwu & Nnamdi Asomugha photo by CarolRosegg

How does one deal with grief? When do we stop grieving?Writer/Actress Ngozi Anyanwu poetically attempts to address the age-old question with her play, Good Grief, in its New York premiere at the Vineyard Theatre. We meet Nkechi, or Nfor those who cannot pronounce her name, a med school dropout who has returned to her childhood suburban home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The accidental death of her close friend, MJ, launches Nkechi into a deep state of grief that is sometimes misunderstood by those around her. This death causes her to re-examine her relationships with the important people in her life. This re-examination is portrayed through short, non-chronological vignettes revealing truths, half-truths, and all-out fallacies.

 

The core of the play centers around her complicated relationship with her neighbor/childhood friend/sometimes romantic interest MJ (Ian Quinlan). Hes a dreamer and we meet him doing such – If I could be anything I would be a king! They live forever.Shes more practical, at least that the facade she has to put on for her parents who expect her to be the good Nigerian girl, a title she never asked for. We meet her in the middle of a distressing moment in her life, she’s dropped out of med school and questions her lifes purpose – only to be hit with the news of MJs untimely death.

 

The rest of the play navigates Nkechis various stages of womanhood and grief in no chronological order. The plot is the play’s strongest asset. Our lead tells the audience a story and desperately tries to get it right. Some moments Nkechi chooses to remember, she tells the truth, others, she lets us know shes revising for the better. True to life, when experiencing grief, we look back on the moments we had with those we mourn and mix them with memories we wish we’d had with them. Its human for time and experience to change the way we remember events in our past, we feel regret and wish we could have a do-over.  Anyanwus portrayal of Nkechi is nothing short of poetic. Nkechi speaks in beautiful, prose-like speech whether she is addressing a character on stage or speaking to the audience, you listen.

 

While Nkechi is the focus of the play, the supporting cast does an amazing job of pushing the story forward and helping us relate to our lead a bit more. Her mother, NeNe (Patrice Johnson Chevannes), a psychiatric nurse who mixes both African proverbs and psychiatric practice to help her daughter with grief; her traditional Nigerian father, Papa (Oberon K.A. Adjepong), who loves her despite not understanding the depth of her pain; and there is comic relief in the form of her brother, Bro (Nnamdi Asomugha), a wannabe ghetto philosopherwith a kind heart. These characters allow the audience to observe the many layers of Nkechis psyche, drawing out her vulnerability, insecurities, and sense of humor.

 

The show primarily takes place during nighttime, so the set and lights are minimal but impactful. The use of light is as dynamic as our lead characters’ thoughts and emotions. The lights often evoke a visual representation of Eureka!”  The outline of the set is the shape of a home that shifts as the play changes locations. The nighttime setting adds an air of mystery, and who doesnt enjoy a good mystery? Not sure if that was a conscious decision by the playwright or director, but it works.

 

Directed by Awoye Timpo, the play is easy to follow despite the non-chronological order (the play takes place between 1992 and 2005, also the beginning of time and the futurethe script reads) it helps that both Anyanwu and Quinlan are excellent at embodying the mannerisms and characteristics of their childlike selves. While it is a tragic incident that starts our story, its much more than that. Good Grief is a universal story of love and loss that keeps audiences laughing and crying, a brilliant piece of writing that should have theater producers pounding at Anyanwus door if they know whats good for them.

Good Grief
8.8 Reviewer
0 Users (0 votes)
Summary
- Maybe it’s because it felt so familiar and reminded me of my relationships or the fact that “Crossroads” by Bone Thugs & Harmony made an appearance but this felt like I was living the journey. -The writing is superb, in fact, brilliant. The only thing I wish - Why isn’t this show a MUSICAL? It has the formula. -If you want to hear all the 90’s hits, you’ll love it. -If you’re looking for something to make you laugh and cry in 90 minutes, this is the show for you.
Actor Craftsmanship9
Direction9
Book10
Costume Design7.5
Sound Design8
Audience Enjoyment9
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Reviews

Jocelyn Bioh’s School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play — Review

Jazmine Harper-Davis

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L-R: Joanna A. Jones and MaameYaa Boafo in the MCC Theater production of “School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play”. Written by Jocelyn Bioh and directed by Rebecca Taichman Photo by Craig Schwartz.

“Equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking!”

We all know those high school girls who were a part of the “it” crowd. They had the looks, the confidence, the boy, and the seemingly perfect life. The identity of the popular girl isn’t just an American issue— it’s an identity that exists all around the globe.

MCC Theater’s School Girls; or, the African Mean Girls Play, which re-opened on Monday evening at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, truly lives up to its name as a highly entertaining comedy that takes an all-too-familiar American concept and shows how universal it indeed is.

In this case, the show is set at Aburi Girls’ Senior High School in Ghana in 1986. The Queen Bee of the school, Paulina Sarpong (MaameYaa Boafo), makes her status known both in what she says and how she says it. “So…do you want to be fat-fat? Or fit and popular?” she asks her larger-sized classmate and “best friend” Nana (Abena Mensah-Bonsu). Nana immediately exchanges her porridge for an apple, which is a “good source of fiber,” according to Paulina. The other members of the popular clique go along with Paulina’s cruel words with laughs and cosigns, while she’s around, but prove they are more than cold-hearted pawns the moment she leaves.

The big event at hand is competing to become Miss Ghana 1986, a competition that Paulina is sure to win, as the other girls don’t stand a chance. In addition to the shy Nana, there is Mercy (Mirirai Sithole) and her cousin Gifty (Paige Gilbert), the hilariously-witty duo that are considered “average beauties,” and Ama (Latoya Edwards), who is smart, sensible, and utterly uninterested in the pageant.

While it seems like Paulina is the perfect pageant girl, her dominance is threatened when a new girl enters the scene. The charming mixed-race Ericka (Joanna A. Jones) wins the other girls over with her lotions, hair products, concert stories, and lighter skin, much to Paulina’s dismay. Ericka’s arrival threatens Paulina’s chances at winning Miss Ghana 1986, and quickly Paulina proves that she’ll do just about anything to win.

Eloise (Zenzi Williams), the recruiter for the Global Universe Pageant and former Miss Ghana 1966 (which she never fails to let the audience nor the girls forget), wants to find a girl to represent Ghana well and will appeal to a “wider” audience—a girl with lighter skin. No stranger to the effects of colorism herself, Eloise is hellbent on having Ghana showcased on the universal stage. It helps that if her selected girl is chosen, she gets a raise and the all-girls school gets some extra cash. It’s a proposal that looks too good to pass up for Headmistress Francis (Myra Lucretia Taylor); after all, the school could use the money.

While Headmistress knows how much this opportunity would mean to Paulina, it’s no secret that Ericka is the clear frontrunner, at least in Eloise’s eyes. Tensions rise as the audition approaches, secrets are spilled, and identities are stripped and exposed for what they truly are. The play’s most potent moments lie with Paulina and Ericka, whose well-crafted personas start to unravel as truths are revealed.

Playwright Jocelyn Bioh, an actor and a writer in her own right, gives room for the characters to grow without completely vilifying our lead character or making her a victim of her decisions. Paulina could quickly be the bitch for which audiences hold no sympathy, but it’s in both Boafo’s excellent acting choices and Bioh’s complex writing that leads the audience to appreciate the intricacies of humanity—her humanity. It’s no surprise her mean girl persona stems from her deep insecurities, which leads her to realize she may have more in common with Ericka than she thought. Very much like life offstage, she has to deal with the consequences of her actions. Bioh gives the audience a small glimpse into the life of a teenage girl struggling with her own identify and place in her school’s hierarchy. The audience almost forgets that the show only takes place in a single cafeteria; the characters allow the world to feel so much more substantial.

“School Girls” is a well-paced, rewarding ensemble show that is equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking in its 75-minutes. (Seriously, 75-minutes was perfect; more plays should take note that you can tell a good story without having us there for hours). A show like this always gets us wondering, where are the Black female playwrights on Broadway? It’s false to say they don’t exist when countless Black women are doing the work without getting the platform they deserve. Jocelyn Bioh and the cast are doing more with their 75-minute play than some 2+ hour shows do with their stunt casting and mediocre writing.

So, what are you waiting for, Broadway?

Jocelyn Bioh’s School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play — Review
9 Reviewer
Summary

- While the show itself is truly and ensemble show, the scene sealer was MaameYaa Boafo’s Paulina.

- The big high stakes moment isn’t overshadowed by pointless blocking or an intense fight, all done with verbal and emotional jabs which sting just as hard as any physical punch would.

- The script is equal parts comedy and uncomfortable truths. There is literally never a dull moment and a lot of that credit goes to the script.

- It was the 80s through and through (Come on shoulder pads!). The costuming was on point and elevated the piece.

- Who doesn’t love New Edition? Bobby Brown is consistently brought up throughout the play and the music supports that.

- The times passes almost too quickly but there is never a dull moment and the audience definitely reacts.
Actor Craftsmanship9
Direction9
Book9
Costume Design9
Sound Design9
Audience Enjoyment9

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Off Broadway

We Were There: Pipeline at Lincoln Center Theater

Jerrica White

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Namir Smallwood & Karen Pittman in Pipeline @ LCT Photo: Jeremy Daniel

We real cool. We

Left school. We

Lurk late. We

Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We

Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We

Die soon.

 

 

In 1960 Pulitzer Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks’ haunting crescendo from innocence to downfall, “We Real Cool,” was published by Harpers.  In 2017 Dominique Morisseau humanizes and harmonizes with the Youth experience by following a similarly eerie trajectory, in her newest play “Pipeline.”

Walking into the Mitzie E. Newhouse theater and being met with the familiarity of harsh fluorescent lights and institutional cement block walls, will humble you.  For 90 minutes of your life, you’re back in a classroom and the choice is yours on who is going to be your instructor.  Enter Nya (a sharp and haunting Karen Pittman), an inner-city public school teacher and mother.  Enter Omari (a brilliantly magnetic, Namir Smallwood) a private school attendee and son.  Both professors in their own right, they quarter 90 minutes across the war zone of a mother whose every move is to protect her son and a son who’s fighting to deflect the de-humanizing compartmentalization of his surroundings.  The title of the play, “Pipeline,” is a direct reference to the national trend where students are funneled through a pipeline from school to prison due to zero tolerance policies which criminalize over minor infractions.

If Morisseau wasn’t already on your radar, look now.  Where there could have been didactic language, there’s deep dialogue. Where we’d normally see over-explanation to compensate for a lack of understanding the Black experience, we see compassion.  Morisseau lays a genuine and raw foundation for the voices of her characters to sing from. She fleshes out everyday heroes—mothers, fathers, teachers (Brava, Tasha Lawrence! A standout.), students, and security guards (a charming Jaime Lincoln Smith) –who are all just trying to do the right thing.

Lileana Blain-Cruz’s direction and staging is the microphone that amplifies the tight harmonies and arrangements between this stunning 6-member cast.  Within this composition, the duets resonate the loudest. That is the poetic, song-like exchanges that Morisseau has penned in the sweeping, full-range of emotion and complication that makes up the key of humanity, that we confuse as dialogue.

Father + Son

Mother + Son

Mother + Father

 

We are reminded that life isn’t easy, family isn’t perfect, and resolution isn’t promised. We’re reminded that life isn’t promised.

The interactions between Omari and his girlfriend Jasmine (a passionate and wise, Heather Velazquez) move me the most.  Too often we dismiss the validity of feelings such as love or fear, based on age and experience.  Morisseau gives the voice of our youth bass and credibility.

If this play was a thesis, I gather it postulates, why do we not see people for the entire human being they are?  Why do we not take the time to understand the factors behind circumstance?

Omari’s classroom violence.  Xavier (Morocco Omari) and Nya’s failed marriage.  Nya’s crippling anxiety.  Xavier’s absentee fatherhood. Nya’s infidelity.  None of these events stand alone. The question now is: do we take this story as a mere page out of a textbook, or a reminder on how to live life through a lens of radical empathy?

Pipeline doesn’t seek to answer large questions for us, rather it invites us into the classroom to be part of this eloquent and intelligent debate.

Pipeline

Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater

Written by Dominique Morisseau; Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz
Set design by Matt Saunders, costume design by Montana Blanco, lighting design by Yi Zhao, sound design by Justin Ellington.
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission.
Pipeline will run through August 27, 2017

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Off Broadway

We Were There: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and the Beauty in Summer Love

Broadway Black

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There are several reasons that summer love is so enticing. Whether it be the prospect of having an electric attraction with someone or the short lived nature of a fling, summer love is sure to encompass good times at a fast, flirty pace. All that and more is what you should expect from The Public Theater’s, Shakespeare in the Park A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A midsummer tale of love gone right after going wrong and the beauty in both, because love can be tricky like that.

Phylicia Rashad as Titania and Benjamin Ye as Changeling Boy – Photo courtesy of The Public Theater

When Puck (Kristine Nielson), the meddling sprite whose not all there and a little too interested in having a good time accidentally drugs the wrong young Athenian male, “fair ladies” battle it out sumo style. Titania, the fairy queen (played by Broadway Black legend Phylicia Rashad) falls in love with a literal ass (Danny Burstein), and everyone in between is spellbound throughout. At first you think Lysander (Kyle Beltran) only has eyes for Hermia (Shalita Grant)- poor Helena (Annaleigh Ashford)! But then he falls for Helena, poor Hermia! But then Demetrius falls for Helena as well- poor Hermia, again! Poor every courtier whose fallen victim to Puck’s magical negligence. It’s all so rivetingly confusing and captivatingly annoying that Puck had one job and couldn’t get it right. Equal parts touching and humorous as any romantic comedy should be, yet you can’t help but think that it’s all so beautiful. Literally, it is breathtaking to watch Helena and Hermia fight over the men they love in yellow and orange crop tops and blue and teal puffy skirts under a canopy of trees adorned in fairy lights.

De’Adre Aziz as Hippolyta and Bhavesh Patel as Theseus – Photo courtesy of The Public Theater

Praise for an overwhelmingly colorful show! I mean that in more ways than one, from the costumes designed by Clint Ramos (In Transit)- Hippolyta’s (De’Adre Aziza) wedding dress will remind you of a certain modern day goddess- to the scenic design by David Rockwell (She Loves Me). Original music and orchestrations by Justin Levine (Love’s Labour’s Lost) complimented by the enchanting Marcelle Davies-Lashley, down to the casting which is extremely pertinent given recent events surrounding the casting of Black actors. The announcement of Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan’s (Hamilton) departure from The Great Comet after a two week run, where it would appear the producers were ill prepared to handle more than one Black lead at a time. The Public Theater’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream reaffirms that Black and Brown people are more than adequate storytellers. In terms of racial representation, The Public Theatre continues to show us what theatre can and should be. Inclusive not divisive or dismissive; or as Oskar Eustis says in the pre-show announcements theatre is “where art and culture meet.”

Under the direction of Lear deBessonet, current resident director and founder of Public Works,  A Midsummer seduces you like a determined lover hellbent on winning your heart. You’ll hear planes flying low overhead and the frequent cop car or ambulance wailing outside the park but you’ll be as spellbound as Lysander and Demetrius were with Helena. Phylicia Rashad saunters onto the stage through light smog after ascending a short flight of stairs in a glittering silver gown to address her fairy companions. Marcelle Davies-Lashley croons “Wake me up when summers here,” and you’re hooked.

Shalita Grant as Hermia and Alex Hernandez as Demetrius – Photo courtesy of The Public Theater

You’ll forget you’re listening to a play in verse, thanks to a company of actors with impeccable comedic timing. As the Bard’s work did in his day, A Midsummer reflects modern love even in iambic pentameter. In one scene, Hermia has had enough of a pestering Demetrius and regales him with a lofty Shakespearean “leave me alone” but when he persists she lets out a “Boy if you don’t…” and storms off stage to roaring laughter. Here, as evidenced throughout the entire show, the folly of romance is timeless.

“The course of true love never did run smooth” Lysander tells Hermia, but it doesn’t have to when everyone’s falling head over heels in lust on a beautiful stage in lavish costumes under a clear night sky.  So, like all summer romances that have to end, A Midsummer Night’s Dream will only be in the park for two weeks, opening Monday July 31 and running through August 13, 2017. Don’t miss your chance to see Phylicia Rashad and experience this enthralling production!

For more information on how to get your free tickets visit ThePublicTheater.org

Location: The Delacorte Theatre in Central Park

Creative: Direction by the Public’s Resident Director and Founder of the Public Works program, Lear deBessonet with choreography by Chase Brock.

Cast: Featuring Phylicia Rashad (Titania), De’Adre Aziza (Hippolyta), Patrena Murray (Snout), Shalita Grant (Hermia) and Kyle Beltran (Lysander); as well as Annaleigh Ashford (Helena); Vinie Burrows (First Fairy, Peaseblossom); Danny Burstein (Nick Bottom); Justin Cunningham (Philostrate); Marcelle Davies-Lashley (Fairy Singer); Austin Durant (Snug); Keith Hart (Third Fairy); Alex Hernandez (Demetrius); Jeff Hiller (Francis Flute); Robert Joy (Peter Quince); Patricia Lewis (Fourth Fairy); David Manis (Egeus, Cobweb); Pamela McPherson-Cornelius (Second Fairy); Kristine Nielsen (Puck); Bhavesh Patel (Theseus); Richard Poe (Oberon); Joe Tapper (Robin Starveling); Judith Wagner (Mote); Warren Wyss (Mustardseed); Benjamin Ye (Changeling Boy).

Running Time: 2 and a half hours, including a 20 minute intermission

Through August 13, 2017

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Off Broadway

We Were There: The Three Musketeers

Broadway Black

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At the Richard Rodgers Amphitheater in Marcus Garvey Park, tucked between a baseball diamond and a playground, the Classical Theatre of Harlem’s fast-paced swashbuckling retelling of The Three Musketeer’sbrings a little Paris to Harlem, but not without taking a little Harlem to Paris.

As the sun sets in the trees somewhere behind the stage, you’ll take in a dabbing Porthos (Reynaldo Piniella), an ensemble of dancers from the Elisa Monte company, and Shayshahn “PhearNone” MacPherson on the Aurora violin, leaving one to wonder “Are we in Harlem or in France?”

In Catherine Bush’s adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas classic under Jenny Bennett’s direction, a female D’Artagnan (Miriam Hyman; The Piano Lesson ) moves from the country in hopes of joining the King’s musketeers. Before doing so of course, she must first sword-fight with almost everyone, fall in love with her landlord’s daughter (Ava McCoy), and figure out what it means to be “all for one and one for all.” It’s a tale about the three musketeers that’s less about the classic trio, and more about D’Artagnan the musketeer wannabe who can’t seem to catch a break.

Miriam Hyman – Photo by Jill Jones

Amidst a simple yet impressive set, Hyman shows us a D’Artagnan as we’ve never seen her before, simply because we haven’t seen her before. As Bennett imagined it, D’Artagnan doesn’t need to man up to be a musketeer but woman up, and woman up Hyman does. With her dred-loc bob and braid clips Hyman bounds around the stage with her sword at the ready as if she were already in the King’s service. “If I wanted to kill you,” she nonchalantly tells an injured Athos (Emmanuel Brown; Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark)  “I’d use my sword.” Hyman’s understated confidence and surety ensure that you haven’t any doubt somebody’s dying at her hand before the 90 minutes is up.

The 90 minutes goes by very fast. So fast that if you paused to swat at the many flies that were also trying to enjoy the show, you might miss a connection between a flashback scene happening on the balcony stage left or when they cut  to the present to reenact a story-within-a-story center stage. Even so, in a scene cut too short- literally stopped by a 5 second blackout- the three musketeers get into a bar brawl with flying mugs and chairs… in slow motion! Arguably the most visually arresting (albeit random) scene in the whole show.

Concerning design, when the sun finally disappeared and the front lighting hit the stage just right, the park faded into nonexistence and you could fully bask in CTH’s colorful production. Costume designer Rachel Dozier-Ezell’s mix of bold and bright patterns added a layer of captivation to the dancers dresses, the Queen of France’s (Afia Abusham) ball gown, and of course the musketeers. Consider this, could Athos, Porthos and Aramis (Brandon Carter) have made better entrances without velvet capes and striped pantalons paired with floral chemisiers, paisley vests and cheetah print boots? I think not!

If Paris, France represents a little respite amidst the chaos of a troubled world, with sword fights and cautionary tales of love gone wrong, then yes, CTH’s The Three Musketeers definitely brought a little France to Harlem.

Courtesy of The Classical Theatre of Harlem

Location: Richard Rodgers Amphitheater, Marcus Garvey Park. Free and open to the public.

Creative: By Catherine Bush, adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas. Directed by Jenny Bennett. Choreography by Tiffany Rea-Fisher. Fight Choreography by Emmanuel Brown.

Cast: Starring Miriam Hyman, Emmanuel Brown, Brandon Carter, Reynaldo Piniella, Michael Early, R.J. Foster, Anthony Merchant and Piera Van de Weil. Featuring Afia Abusham, Jeffrey Alkins, Jamar Brathwaite, Avon Haughton, Ava McCoy, Nedra Snipes, Jorge Sanchez, Jak Watson and The Elisa Monte Dance Company.

Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission

Through July 30

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We Were There

We Were There: Kill Move Paradise Rattles With Power, Pain And Joy

Jerrica White

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Earlier this week, Jeronimo Yanez joined the list of police officers who have been acquitted of charges linked to the shooting deaths of Black men.  Yanez is now a free man,  while Philando Castile is and the pursuit for justice is dead.  In a country more interested in short-sighted ignorance over comprehensive explanation and dialogue, we fight for our humanity against the demonization of our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters.  All losing their life for simply being Black in America.   Consequently, we pick up the shattered pieces of our human emotion and reassemble the portraits of the lives taken from us.

Philando Castile’s last words were: “I wasn’t reaching for it.”  Mike Brown’s: “I don’t have a gun.  Stop shooting.”  Oscar Grant’s: “You shot me. You shot me!”  Trayvon Martin’s: “What are you following me for?”

James Ijames’ daring Kill Move Paradise is now on stage at the National Black Theatre.  Through an expressionistic interpretation on the value of life, Ijames demands reform in the way we remember those who have been slain at the hands of state sanctioned violence.

Power, poison, pain, and joy boomerang across the fun house mirrors of Maruti Evans’ set.  The audience, although left off the program, is a characterization of America.  We look each other eye to eye in a space which eerily calls to memory a one-way mirror interrogation room. However, it is not dark enough.  There is no masking their pain, or our pain.  There is both freedom and hopelessness as we contort with conviction under strobe lights, checked privilege, and emotional discomfort. So we look on, so we lean in, as 4 men, 4 Black men, query in heartbreaking harmony: where are we and how did we get here?

Ryan Swain, Donnell E. Smith, Clinton Lowe, & Sidiki Fofana Photo via National Black Theatre

Isa (Ryan Swain), Grif (Donnell E. Smith), Daz (Clinton Lowe) and Tiny (Sidiki Fofana), give equally dynamic and affecting performances as part of the list, a “cohort,” which includes Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin.  This list mirrors the circumstance of present day as it grows in length by the moment.  As time passes and reality becomes more clear, we squirm as we sit with new questions rooted in the protocol for the perished: What is the rhythm of the first breath on the other side?  What is the cadence of these first steps and who is there to hold our hand as we stumble on the terrain of the unknown? 

Saheem Ali directs with sharp shears, perfectly inserting humanity into this cavity between heaven and hell.  4 men.  4 beautiful Black men become Heroes.  Swain is eloquence.  He is grace and the fluidity of our movement.  Smith is the sunshine in the eye of a man that carries a dream and is equipped with the tools to carry it out.  Lowe is equal parts heart and soul, a fierce protector, a friend.  Fofana is the harrowing sound a needle makes when it hits the center of the vinyl, the record is Innocence and there’s no side B.  Together, these men represent the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of those snatched from this earth before their time.

Time has a cruel way of repeating itself here. Kill Move Paradise is uncomfortable but it has to be.  We sit and watch death repeat itself to the point of satire.  In these moments, how can we not be provoked and challenged to rise out of own complacency?  The beautiful thing about art is we have the power to use it to metabolize our fear, anger, and sorrow.  Let this work be the reminder that we’re here to reclaim our stories. This is the Battlecry which sings we are our brother’s keeper.  This is the ignition in the revolution of radical empathy.

Kill Move Paradise is the most urgent play you can see this season.  Don’t miss your opportunity!  Performances are Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 7:30; Saturdays at 2 and 7:30; and Sundays at 4, thru June 25th.

The production team includes Maruti Evans (Set), Alan C. Edwards  (Lighting), Ntokozo Fuzunina Kunene  (Costumes), Palmer Hefferan (Sound), Darrell Moultrie (Movement), Darius Smith (Musical Director), and Christina Franklin (Production Stage Manager).

For more information and to purchase tickets visit nationalblacktheatre.org.

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