Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story
I’ m reminded of those Hamilton lyrics every single time I go to see a show that was written by a person of color. But tonight, this line has an even more special meaning when a show is written by a black woman playwright, and not just one but five short plays.
Something special is happening uptown at Harlem’s National Black Theatre, this special thing is in the form of The New Black Fest (in collaboration with Dominique Morisseau) curated , Un-Tamed Hair Body Attitude, Short Plays by Black Women. A collection of plays that speak to and speak on the many issues that plague black women every day that aren’t talked about, let alone written about. Yet, at the intimate black box on 125th Street, these stories are being told, and beautifully so I don’t even know where do begin.
If this review seems a bit personal, that’s because it is. As a black woman in the theatre world, seeing shows like UnTamed fill me with pride, joy and gratitude. If I may go off on a quick tangent, theatre and art in general, is more than escapism for me (and I’d assume for others as well). There is something powerful about art, an indescribable feeling when you are sitting in a theatre and watching brilliant artists create and work in front of you. You feel connected to the words they are saying and feel the very emotions they feel, that’s the kind of theatre I love most.
The National Black Theatre had a hashtag that said #artheals and that couldn’t be more true with what was presented tonight. The stories were bold and nuanced, the acting and performances were embedded in truth and authenticity. Art not only healed but it sparked powerful dialogue and thoughts that gave me more urgency and drive, I was rejuvenated.
Un-Tamed didn’t hold back in any way. The short plays featured a range of topics about black womanhood in our communities such as; natural vs relaxed hair and tackled colorism in Cori Thomas’ The Hair Play, standards of beauty and skin lightening were at the forefront in Jocelyn Bioh’s White-N-Lucious, strong black woman archetypes and black femininity (or lack thereof) in Chisa Hutchinson’s Melanintervention, unwanted and often scary sexual advances in cabs in Lenelle Moise’s San Francisco Cab, and what might be the most painstakingly one yet the deals with the issues of black girlhood being taken, black girls and women voices being silenced, and their stories hidden in Nikkole Salter’s Peace Officer Privilege.
All five dealing with completely different issues but one thing remained constant, at the center of it all was a black woman. During a time where #blacklivesmatter and #oscarssowhite , black woman face a greater issue. Black women are armed with the task of being both black and women, a concept that seems hard for the greater world to understand, or maybe they just don’t care, or perhaps both? That therein lies the problem (at the talkback out of the 100 theaters approached about this project only 26 wanted to pick it up).
The character Yolanda (played brilliantly by Erin Cherry) in the play Melanintervention said it best, we [black women] have to fight but it doesn’t mean we want to fight. Black women fight for their basic rights, they fight for jobs, they fight to be seen a women, they fight to be seen as human beings, they fight for their children, their men, their community but who fights for the black woman?
This shouldn’t read as “woe is me”, or even trying to pity the black woman after all, who would? Black women are some of this worlds more resilient human beings. Black women are like O negative blood, gives of itself and get’s nothing in return, yet finds the power to still give until it’s all gone. There is magic in the ability to do that, but it doesn’t mean it needs to be that way. Black women’s stories are just as important as anyone else and they deserve to be shared and I’m grateful that the National Black Theatre and The New Black Fest took a chance and gave life to these stories. To the amazing playwrights, directors, actors, producers, anyone involved in getting this project to the masses here at Broadway Black we offer our thanks. What you do is important and deserves to be seen all over, you truly embody what it means to be Broadway Black.
Un-Tamed also stars MaameYaa Boafo, Ben Chase, Ronald Kirk, Nedra McClyde, Sharina Martin, Ambien Mitchell, Megan Robinson, Debargo Sanyal, Carolyn Michelle Smith & Jennifer Tsay
Un-Tamed is running until this Monday, March 28th. Do yourself a favor and support what is happening on 125th because it’s beautiful, it’s magical, it’s transformative. You can purchase tickets here.