Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The First Annual African-American Theatre Festival"

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note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Larry Stark


The First Annual
African-American Theatre Festival

The Our Place Theatre Company

Artistic Director Jacqui Parker
Managing Director Donna Scott

Lighting and Scenic Design by Eric Levenson
Costume Design by Eileen Bouvier
Stage Manager Cheryl D. Olszowska
Props Mistress Virginia Bennett
Choreographers Denise Gaskins & Adilson Barros
Musical Arrangements and Direction by Joe Sallins
Vocal Arrangements and Direction by Stephen A. Yager
Lyrics and Arrangements by Jacqui Parker
Vocal Arrangements and Poems by Melissa Bolling & Jo-Ann Atwater

"The Music Box"

by T L Jones
Directed by Jacqui Parker

Carlene................Candy Batista
Colette...............Tanyalee Jones
Mother..............Denise Gaskins
Marissa..............Josslyn Stinson
Bianca....................Maria Arroyo
Darian..............Asshur Williams
Koda..................Abens Maurice

"Two Weeks"

by Abria Smith
Directed by Jacqiui Parker

Naomi Sewell...........Abria Smith
Sherry..................Melissa Bolling
Divine................Christine Turner
Amar..........................Jason Ross

CAFE PERFORMERS
Jo-Ann Atwater
Sharah Hunte
Adilson Barros
Laketha McNary
Denise Gaskins

MUSICIANS
Joe Sallins
Stephen A. Yager
Dawn Denise Daggs

"Free Parking: Cheap"

by Frank A Shefton
Directed by Jacqui Parker

Driver...............Jason Schuchman
Attendant.......Jeffrey B. Calloway

"Rhythm of Luv"

Written and Directed by Jacqui Parker

Efi................Emily Cruz
Ma Tea Cakes...............Jacqui Parker
Aunt Little Bit...........................Stephanie Marson Lee
Aunt Laura Mae..................Kali Walker
Aunt Ray Ray......................Sharah Hunte
Tap Dance Fred................Joseph Eveillard
Jazzy...............Rocky Mendez
CHORUS
Christine Turner, Maria Arroyo, Josslyn Stunson, Candy Hunter, Asshur Williams, Abens Maurice, Tanyalee Jones, Abria Smith, Jo-Ann Atwater, Laketha McNary, Adilson Barros, Melissa Bolling

MUSICIANS
Joe Sallins
Dawn Denise Daggs
Stephen A. Yager

"A Soldiers Play"

by Charles Fuller
Directed by Lois Roach

Tech/Sergeant Vernon C. Waters..................Brother R. A.
Captain Charles Taylor............................Jason Schuchman
Corporal Bernard Cobb.....................................Jason Ross
Private First Class Melvin Peterson................Balele Shoka
Corporal Ellis.............................................Abens Maurice
Private Louis Henson..................Dorian Christian Baucom
Private James Wilkie...............................Aaron Crutchfield
Private Tony Smalls.............................Ricardo Engermann
Captain Richard Davenport..................Jeffrey B. Calloway
Private C. J. Memphis...............................Emmett Thomas
Lieutenant Byrd.....................................Christopher Chew
Captain Wilcox..............................Miguel Angel Gonzales

Once again Boston has a theater company doing things by and for People of Color. The First Annual African-American Theatre Festival is a showcase for Black performers, playwrights, directors, dancers, musicians, teachers, singers and backstage technicians celebrating their heritage, and their vital potential. Not since the New African Company and the Elma Lewis School fell silent has this segment of Boston society had a stage presence that stands so proud as The Our Place Theater Company. And this festival gives notice that award-winning actress Jacqui Parker, their artistic director, is both a playwright and a theatrical director to be reckoned with.

Her own play "Rhythm of Luv" (with the playwright acting the role of Ma Tea Cakes) is a panoramic family history, told to a sixteen-year-old girl experiencing her first stirrings of love. Using music, mime, modern dance and theatrical tap-dance in addition to narration and dialogue, and performers of all ages, this recapitulation of Black history in America is a teaching-play of variety and power.

Two plays on the program grew out of Our Place's playwriting workshops. "The Music Box" by T.L.Jones deals with adolescent angst both on the level of high-school dating, but more deeply over the presence in a family's life of the memory of an older sister dead in a drunk-driving accident. "Two Weeks" by Abria Smith is the story of an uppity fashion designer/seamstress restricting her boyfriends to relationships of only two weeks duration --- and the one man brave enough to ask for a second fortnight's rematch.

All these plays deal heavily and positively with complicated family relationships, and the character of strong Black women. They also take full advantage of Black music and dance, rap music and poetry-slams to tell their stories. The casts range in age from 11 to ... we'd rather not say, but the spread of talent and serious dedication is spectacular.

The ten-minute play "Free Parking: Cheap" by Frank Shefton is a neatly machined gem in which a homeless scam-artist (Jeffrey B. Calloway) tries to "rent" parking space to a nervous customer of a lady of the evening (Jason Schuchman), but ends up sharing the truth of his past and, perhaps, changing both their lives.

This four-play program alternates with a full-length evening: "A Soldiers Play" by Charles Fuller, directed by Lois Roach. The soldiers are largely a Black company waiting to join the D-Day invasion in early 1944, unfortunately in a redneck Sothron town --- and one of their number is murdered. Their White commanding officer and a surprisingly Black military lawyer (Calloway and Schuchman again) spar over military and racial realities in that Jim Crow era while trying to interview nine Black members of the dead sergeant's platoon and two white officers who were probably the last to see him alive. The play is quite complicated, the cast uneven.

Nonetheless, for audiences of all colors and all ages, this First Annual African-American Theatre Festival is a celebration of things accomplished, and things to come.

Love,
===Anon.


"The First Annual African-American Theatre Festival" (till 20 January)
THE BOSTON CENTER FOR THE ARTS
539 Tremont Street, BOSTON
1(617)426-2787