note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Beverly Creasey
The First Annual African-American Theatre Festival offers much more than theater: Impresario Jacqui Parker has written a big-hearted historical drama which manages to squeeze in some mighty impressive hip-hop, rap, tap, ballet and blues --- while it tells the moving story of a young woman coming of age. Parker wrote it to highlight the students of Our Place Theatre Project.
On the same bill are Frank Shefton's satirical comedy "Free Parking: Cheap" about a con man who uses the truth to ply his trade ... "The Music Box" by T L Jones about coming to terms with death ... and "Two Weeks", a cheeky comedy/drama about a hip young woman on the rise who limits her romantic relationships to two weeks only.
Parker's "Rhythm of Luv" has a light comic side and great emotional depth --- especially in a cotton field scene where the women toil and sing --- and Parker found time to play the role of grandma, one of the three respected elders of a proud, loving family with roots in Africa. (Did I mention she directed all the above as well?!)
Joe Sallins, Dawn Denise Daggs and Stephen Yager provide the music and, a "cast of thousands!" people these new works. Lois Roach directs the other evening (they alternate through next weekend): a dynamic production of Charles Fuller's "A Soldier's Play". (This won a Pulitzer Prize and was made into a fine film with Denzel Washington, Adolph Caesar and Howard Rollins Jr.)
"A Soldier's Play" showcases some remarkable performances: namely, Brother R.A. as a self-loathing Sargeant who is shot as he staggers drunk back to the base ... and Jeffrey B. Calloway as the Black lawyer assigned to investigate the murder. (Calloway does double duty performing the role of the con man in Shefton's saucy comedy of modern manners "Free Parking: Cheap".) Calloway transforms himself from the tightly wound ramrod straight Captain to the loose fast talker who could charm the birds out of the trees. Jason Schuchman too shows off his versatility in two roles --- the White and very uncomfortable Captain in charge of a Black fighting unit, and the cocksure driver who parks in the "free" parking lot only to learn a lesson in righteous behavior.
Roach gets riveting performances from Ricardo Engermann, Aaron Crutchfield et al ... and a chilling portrayal from Emmett Thomas of an easy going innocent led to slaughter by his sergeant. The joy on stage is palpable ... and only surpassed by the joy of a fascinated, engaged audience. I only wish there were space to mention every performance