This past weekend the third annual DC Black Theatre Festival kicked off its weeklong showcase. Between now and July 1st over 150 performances by local and international artist will take place across the District.
As part of the opening weekend, author and award-winning actress, Perri Gaffney presented a one-woman adaptation of her novel, The Resurrection of Alice. All three performances took place in the Mead Theatre Lab, an intimate, 60-seat black box space in the back of the Flashpoint art gallery.
From the 1930s through the ‘50s, many poor African American families across the country arranged marriages between their teenage daughters and wealthy, older men in the community. Playwright Perri Gaffney has written and performs one such story in The Resurrection of Alice with all its humor, ashes and redemption.
Beginning at age five, Alice narrates her own experiences, painting a picture of 1930’s poverty in South Carolina. A few years later her family’s fortune changes; her father is given a job at the local mill by the aging, but wealthy, Mr. Tucker. Suddenly, food is plentiful, gifts frequent and Alice is sent to school. Alice excels and earns a college scholarship along with the affections of fellow student, Isaac. However, at age fifteen, weeks away from graduation, Alice’s parents inform her that she has been promised to marry Mr. Tucker since childhood.
Afraid of what repayment Mr. Tucker will demand from her family if she refuses, Alice steps tentatively into her new role as a wealthy man’s wife. Duty-bound to a man old enough to be her grandfather, Alice has two daughters with her unappealing husband, fighting against frustration, anger and lost opportunities. With time and determination, hope rises from the ashes of her marriage and blesses Alice with redemption’s sweet kiss.
Seamlessly taking on dozens of characters, its author and award-winning actress animates a small community of people that surround Alice. Moving deftly, Gaffney engaged the physicality and ticks of children, adults and the elderly. The wedding scene alone involved nearly a dozen characters and her rapid depictions were enough to convince me I was watching a stage full of actors. During her role as the reverend at Alice’s fated wedding, several audience members vocalized responses and soon we were all involved in poor Alice’s wedding sermon.
Whether it was fatigue (nearly two hours with no intermission for the actress who was off book) or marathon pacing, the final section of the story began to fall flat. Gaffney seemed to relax out of her characters and lost Alice’s distinct vocal qualities that distinguished the actor from the character.
Nevertheless, Gaffney delivered a complex and human take on an oft forgotten tradition in African American history. The audience embraced the story and laughed with Alice, groaned over her husband, and in the end celebrated her resurrection. Ultimately they were sharing in a freedom story of one woman’s fight out of a loveless marriage into a beautiful life of her own making.
The Resurrection of Alice was performed June 23 and 24, 2012 as part of the 2012 DC Black Theatre Festival running now through July 1.
The Resurrection of Alice
Written and Performed by Perri Gaffney
Adapted from her novel, “The Resurrection of Alice”
Produced by MeltonPot and Cobi Narita
Performed at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint Gallery
Reviewed by Rebekah Nettekoven Tello
YouTube of Perri Gaffney in performance: