note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
On a brick wall in the background, Mirta Tocci’s large, bright-colored projection of a pulsating heart dominated, as sound designer Darby Smotherman’s taped voices intone their personal stories and conversations about diabetes. Thus began dynamic theater artist/Emerson College faculty member Robbie McCauley’s one-act, one-woman show, “Sugar,” which she wrote, based on her life story of racism and living with diabetes, and the disease’s widespread effect on others. The show appeared Jan. 20-29 at the Paramount Center Jackie Liebergott Black Box in Boston.
To punctuate several poignant highlights, composer-pianist Chauncey Moore hit dramatic chords, and Kevin Semagin’s lighting framed the eloquent, elegantly tall, pencil-thin McCauley as she shifted back and forth through her stormy life, She traced her childhood in segregated Georgia; her youth in Washington, D.C.; her exciting teaching and stage careers in New York City; her two marriages and birth of her daughter; and her constant war with diabetes. She didn’t mind segregation because she always had plenty of good food to eat growing up and never thought she was poor. “And besides, we didn’t have any reason to want to be with them [white people] anyway,” she chuckled. “In Washington, there were no signs [segregating drinking fountains, etc.]. You just had to know where to go.”
Although a neighborhood Georgian lady named Miss Fanny told McCauley early on that she “had a little bit of sugar,” it wasn’t until much later, when MacCauley lived in New York, that she got her first insulin shot. “We don’t like to give hypodermic needles to Negroes, but in this case.....” she was told. Before then, because of faulty medical care for African-Americans, her telltale symptoms of diabetes went untreated.
“The three D’s of diabetes,” she declared - “Depression, Denial and Drink”.
Her dad was in denial of her diabetes, she endured bouts of depression, and during her wilder days, she drank excessively. She straightened out later because she disliked attending AA meetings.
Nonchalantly, she munched a candy bar on stage, discussing the significance of sugar throughout her lifetime, from sugar canes growing down the street, to sneaking peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, etc. She pulled out her diabetes testing kit, pricked her finger, tested her blood sugar, then injected insulin in her stomach, followed by eating an avocado.
“Sugar eats at you from the inside out,” MacCauley said, listing diabetes‘ little known side effects: neuropathy, blindness, kidney failure, limb and toes amputation, and more. “Nobody talks about the pain and its effect on the immune system,” she added. Bent over and burdened under its weight, she carried a large batch of sugar cane on her back,. She was a dancer, an actress, writer, teacher, and is currently a professor at Emerson College, still battling Diabetes, which nearly took her life. MacCauley slipped into a diabetic coma while talking on the phone with her daughter in New York. Swiftly, her daughter called 911 long distance.
MacCauley ambled across stage, saying “Neither love nor diabetes has killed me yet,” then faded off, stage left, to a standing ovation.
After every performance, MacCauley and a panel led a Q&A, that had stirring results. An attractive young African-American woman flew up from North Carolina for the day to see MacCauley’s show, and was flying out early evening. Frustrated and confused, she said she, too, was recently diagnosed as a diabetic, having been misdiagnosed for five years. She felt lost, unaware of how to properly care for herself. A white, attractive older woman, a former California transplant, said she, too, was misdiagnosed and now lives in Massachusetts, where she’s receiving proper treatment.
MacCauley and Co.hope to present “Sugar” to medical facilities, schools, and other venues.