Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Fifth African American Theatre Festival: Those That Came Before, and Spunk"

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Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi

"THOSE THAT CAME BEFORE: Celebrating a Theater Pioneer, Ed Bullins"

“A SON, COME HOME” by Ed Bullins
directed by Michelle Aguillion

Mother … Valencia Hughes-Imani
The Girl … Karimah Williams
Son … Claude Del
The Boy … Raymond Ramirez

directed by Darius Williams

Mr. Jones … Bill Bruce
Mr. Carpentier … Cristian De Jesus
Bill … Danny Maurino
Leonard … Claude Del
Miss Moskowitz … Sarah Katz
Martha … Sarah Katz
Sue … Amy Corral

“CLARA’S OLE MAN” by Ed Bullins
directed by Jacqui Parker

Clara … Karimah Williams
Big Girl … Valencia Hughes-Imani
Baby Girl … Shauday Johnson-Jones
Jack … Raymond Rameriez
Miss Famie … Candace Lee
Stoogie … Claude Del
Bama … Cristian De Jesus
Hoss … Danny Maurino
CC … Bill Bruce


by George C. Wolfe and Zora Neale Hurston
directed by Jeff Robinson
music by Chick Street Man

Guitar Man … Fred Woodward
Blues Speak Woman … Linda Starks
Sykes; Slemmons; Ensemble … David Curtis
Delia; Missy Mae; Ensemble … Jacqui Parker
Jelly; Ensemble … Dorian Christian-Baucum
Sweet Back; Joe; Ensemble … Darius Williams

Last August, I wrote, “It is one thing to honor theatre artists; it is another to attend their productions --- now that StageSource has honored actress/playwright/director Jacqui Parker as a Hero, will audiences flock to Roxbury for SUMMER BREEZE, Our Place Company’s current evening of one-act plays or wait until its African American Theatre Festival is more conveniently housed in Boston’s Wimberly Theatre, this upcoming January?” Well, it’s Janaury and the Fifth Annual African American Theatre Festival is here, looking slick and professional at the BCA, but where are its audiences? So far, its houses have been half full, at best, regardless of skin color. Should you attend all four productions, you will be impressed at all that local talent; if not, each evening is a worthy solo: ASCENSION triumphantly proves that a tragedy with fire and passion can still be forged in these increasingly timid days; THOSE THAT CAME BEFORE honors Ed Bullins, a seminal playwright of the 1960s and 70s; and SPUNK is an entertaining showcase of Zora Neale Hurston, a leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance, and the Our Place Theatre Project ensemble (the fourth production, NEW WORKS, will present works by New England playwrights).

Mr. Bullins is represented with three one-acts from the 1960s: the memory-piece “A Son, Come Home” about a mother and son reunion, overlapping with, among others, their younger selves; THE ELECTRONIC NIGGER, an academic burlesque set in a Creative Writing class; and the company’s reprise of CLARA’S OLE MAN where the title character is a butch lesbian and Clara’s male admirer ends up paying the consequences. Of the three, CLARE’S OLE MAN still packs a punch; despite its rowdy humor, its mood and detail is Chekhovian and Valencia Hughes-Imani (Big Girl) and Shauday Johnson-Jones (the mentally-retarded Baby Girl) remain the standouts; last summer, Ms. Hughes-Imani wandered about the stage, too much --- now she dominates from her throne at the kitchen table, as a proper tyrant should.

SPUNK is a whole lot of fun: George C. Wolfe has filtered three of Zora Neal Hurston’s stories through Readers’ Theatre and Jeff Robinson has nicely staged them between the narrative and the dramatic (the collective title does not refer to Ms. Hurston’s story of the same name). The program notes mention that these stories are “woven together with nothing but the blues” --- true, there are a Guitar Man and a Blues Speak Woman performing throughout but what reads low-key on the page bursts into chittlin’ hilarity once it hits the stage so that even “Sweat”, a battle to the death between a husband, a wife and a rattlesnake, claims its share of laughter. “Story in Harlem Slang” is a vaudeville between two penniless zoot-suiters outdoing each other in braggadocio, and in “The Gilded Six Bits” a tempted wife discovers that her husband’s love is far more precious than gold. Three members of ASCENSION’s cast get to show their comic side with David Curtis as a pair of bad boys, Linda Starks foxing it up as the blues singer, and Jacqui Parker who continues to amaze me with her virtuosity; her cameo as a street-wise broad with a knife in her purse is a show-stopper --- if Ms. Parker can earn accolades in mainstream Boston productions, I don’t see why her name and reputation shouldn’t cause a stampede to see her when she “goes home”, as well. Dorian Christian-Baucum still seems incapable of tenderness or vulnerability but at least his rock-hardness has been polished to a glow, this time around, and his bravura manner is clearly nostalgic: should he and Ms. Starks ever be paired together, they could be Fred Sanford and Aunt Esther in younger days --- “You so homely, you ain’t gonna die natural. You just gonna ugly yo’self to death.” “Now, look here, suckuh….”

"The Fifth African American Theatre Festival: Those That Came Before" (18-27 January)
"The Fifth African American Theatre Festival: Spunk" (20-30 January)
The Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA.
1 (617) 933-8600

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide