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EDITOR: Andrea Kirk
BLACK WOMEN: STATE OF THE UNION - TAKING FLIGHT AT KATSELAS
By M.R. Hunter
10/31/2012 01:42:27 PM
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|The 2009 NAACP award-winning theatrical event returns with a new collection of six one-acts by women of color exploring gender, race and stereotype through humor, heart and brutal honesty. Tackling a myriad of issues from racial violence to hair weaves; the rawness of the material strikes an immediate chord in the naked vulnerability. Occasionally, the effect wanes from uneven plays that could use judicious pruning or further development. Still, the overall cohesiveness and collected wisdom imparted from the production is a far greater reward and a testament to these female playwrights who reveal their individual voices while blending their work into a satisfying whole.|
Themes run the gamut as does the emotional ride that begins with Lisa B. Thompson’s haunting ensemble piece “I Don’t Want to Be…” made more resonant with Kila Kitu’s soul-shattering, mournful singing. What the women don’t want to be is in “a sorority of sadness,” – like Emmett Till’s mother to Sybrina Fulton (the mother of Treyvon Martin). The somber start is a risk as is the image of a mother knitting with photos of young black men attached to the blanket that are stapled on in a hodge-podge that doesn’t do the symbolism justice, but the idea is there.
Buoying the mood is Penelope Lowder’s futuristic battleground of beauty in “The Follicle Prison War.” Lighting effects of a ghetto bird creates an aura of excitement and urban chaos. Lee Sherman as Dawn Fantasta is hilarious as she desperately demands to find some hair as the tracks on her head are off the hook (and not in a good way). Obsessed with her image of being “racially ambiguous,” Fantasta is greeted by three goddesses who implore her not to give into the current standard of white-inspired beauty. This play frustrates in that it there are some very funny moments but it veers too seriously away from the humor with the introduction of the goddesses and is far too long to carry the weight of the amusing premise.
Kellie Dantzler’s “Evolutionary” examines a mother and civil rights leader at the end of her life as she shares with her daughter the lessons she’s learned too late: to laugh and dance in spite of it all. The two-hander play is as sweet as it is touching with Kila Kitu and Lony’e Perrine orbiting the piece with restrained but feeling emotion. Although, the play is predictable, the message is universal and appealing. Dantzler reminds us that to fight for humanity should not mean losing it, but embracing it. Strength here is not in the stalwart but in the silliness.
Opening Act II is Penelope Lowder’s delightful “15 Min.” Pitting two singles in a club, Lony’e Perrine and Hari Williams crackle as they spar and inevitably flirt while hashing out dating expectations, stereotypes and mutual attraction. The unflinching, blistering dialogue is as humorous as it is shocking whenever “da man” opens his mouth and spews nasty observations about “angry black women,” citing reasons for why he won’t date them. The scene takes an odd turn that isn’t completely fleshed out when the man realizes the lady is someone of import and suddenly her race/attitude isn’t “too black” for him. A story of missed opportunities and false perceptions, it’s unclear exactly what the playwright is trying to say, but it’s a sassy anecdote.
The humor reaches full tilt with Sigrid Gilmer’s “Black Simulacra.” Parodying black trope and stereotypes from the films The Help and Lee Daniels’ Precious takes on ridiculous proportions as two women fight over a blonde wig, ankle-biting each other in the play-acting of being white. It’s difficult to determine exactly what the environment for this fantasizing is as they behave like juveniles until it becomes clear they aren’t children. Then one wonders if this is some strange acting class. Gilmer justifies the absurdity at the play’s end in a hilarious tie-up that makes this a fascinating and enjoyable trip.
Closing the show is Tanya Alexander-Henderson’s lyrical “Ritual.” Not the strongest piece, the play is beautifully written but doesn’t fully bloom. A woman named only She (Michelle Flowers) struggles with depression and the daily grind of life. Two spirits or halves of She’s psyche attempt to resuscitate her from the overwhelming ennui. Lee Sherman and Tamika Simpkins give lovely turns but the real meat is in the closing monologue that urges us all to appreciate “the present moment.” In this vein, the production closes on a constructive, prodding note that goes beyond race or gender.
It’s easy to pay lip service to the idea of supporting our local artists and playwrights. As critics and audience members, we are guilty of rushing out to see a star like Jeff Goldblum in “Seminar” at the Ahmanson. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the hypocrisy of only wanting to see star-vehicles in big venue theaters pushes aside the voices that do matter and too often go silent or obscured. This is a show that shatters pre-conceived notions from the outset and expertly ties each scene with genuine and personal appeals by members of the cast. It is not a show just for women. It is not a show for the racial minority. It is a show about the human experience told by women, performed primarily by women and deserves our attention.
“Black Women: State of the Union – Taking Flight”
Runs through Nov 18
Fri & Sat @ 8pm
Sundays @ 3pm
1816 ½ Vermont Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Want to know what other Theatre Critics are saying? Check out Bitter Lemons to see if others have reviewed this production.
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