Debbie Minter Jackson sends back this report from her visit to the Saturday, September 2, opening day of this year’s Page-to-Stage festival at the Kennedy Center and brings back some standouts that, hopefully will find their way from the page to local stages .
Written by Idris Goodwin
Directed by Colin Hovde
Produced by Theater Alliance
I’ve been waiting years for a dramatic telling of the John Brown story. I attended the 150th Anniversary of the Raid at Harper’s Ferry in 2009 and wondered when the country could finally deal with this blazing harbinger of a mighty cause, lost in his own world of truth and justice.
Theater Alliance is producing just the message we need right now, with a script by Idris Goodwin that sheds light on this hell-raising, rifle bearing fanatic, who dared to raise arms and spare no life to end slavery. Raid delves into the mission and purpose of the historic event but more importantly, glimpses into the heart and soul of the man whose memory still sends shivers down the spines of folk even today. What kind of man would intentionally arm slaves and incite a revolt to plot an insurrection to freedom? He is cited as a catalyst that sparked the Civil War or at least piled on the smoldering embers.
The script wonderfully captures the man behind the legend and shows his duel persona of “Captain” and fiery minister. The reading showed the strength and fortitude of the man whose own children took up his command in earlier skirmishes with the law—Frederick Brown was killed by slave holding Missourians years before Harper’s Ferry. The script also shows how the mission was so ingrained that Brown fought on through the pain, knowing in his heart and soul he was an “instrument” in God’s hand to end slavery. Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass are there too,– it’s Douglass’ words that help set the tone in understanding the enormity of Brown’s raid so beautifully captured in the script — that it was Harper’s Ferry instead of Fort Sumpter that sparked the war, kindled through the bloody vision of John Brown.
As noted in the program, Raid examines the implications of race in social protest and questions the end of civility. How far we’ve come? It should be quite a production currently scheduled this season.
Consul, the Tramp, and America’s Sweetheart
by John Morogiello
Produced by Best Medicine Rep
Whoever was responsible for scheduling the room assignments missed the mark in using the 40- seat Chinese room for a show that had such appeal as the Consul, the Tramp, and America’s Sweetheart, produced by Best Medicine Rep. The room was filled to capacity before it even started, and many of us lingered in the vestibule hoping to find some kind of way to see the show. Inspired by true events, the story depicted how the German consul to Hollywood tried to stop Charlie Chaplin’s controversial first talking movie, the Great Dictator.
I heard from several who got in that it was indeed a terrific experience, so here’s a shout out to Best Medicine Rep for submitting such an intriguing story—hopefully we’ll have another chance to enjoy it.
Written by John Bavoso
Directed by Ryan Maxwell
Produced by Pinky Swear Productions
I haven’t seen a lot of Pinky Swear’s productions and considering the superb reading of Blight, now I’m wondering why. The selling of a home that previously belonged to a teenager who committed a mass shooting sounds like a powder keg waiting to explode, but the script by John Bavoso and direction by Bryan Maxwell show the tender sides of this ultra sensitive situation.
Plus, I was intrigued to see two top-gun actors as Jessica Lefkow and Fatima Quander in key roles for a winning combination. One doesn’t expect much joy or humor from the ominous and dreary description, but the show was actually quite delightful. You have to trust the wonders of Pinky Swear to make this a remarkably upbeat experience.
Sitting comfortably in the sumptuous Russian Room also added to the ambiance (and decibel level) for a fulfilling experience. The script turns many of the issues on their heads, and explores various interweaving story lines starting with the couple buying the house—these are two sassy women finding their way as newlyweds. Silvia usually takes charge and made the decision to purchase the house despite its bleak history, while her partner Kat starts off submissive, but actually benefits from the community and becomes more self-assured. Nicely staged as concurrent scenes, an exhausted but well-meaning Mom, (Lefkow) banters with her loner son about school and homework, and gets a begrudging kiss goodnight.
Playwright John Bavoso sets up the characters with such care, the title of the show notwithstanding, we don’t see a monster in the eyes of the young gangly teen, only care and hurt as he misses his Dad who doesn’t return. There are many neat observations– being radicalized is making a series of small choices, the perils of living in someone else’s story, and houses aren’t haunted people are—all so spot-on and chilling. The relationships feel real and genuine, including Quander as the Wanda Sykes- intoned real estate agent, and other somewhat well-meaning neighbors. A pivotal role is the Christian evangelist who befriends young Kristofer who starts to spout Bible passages at his bewildered Mom. They’re all a jumble in a pot of intrigue as we wonder how can a “normal” even adorable kid commit such atrocities, and how a couple will find their way out of the mess in the wake of the lingering shadows of pain left behind.
What Had Happened, Was…
Written and Directed by Alan Sharpe
Produced by African American Collective Theater
This collection of short vignettes by Alan Sharpe is filled with the heart and humanity that he’s known for. Each 10-12 minute piece rang true with care and bucket loads of humor. Characters go beyond stereotype and the casting was superb. Sharpe is crystal clear, whether dealing with the early demographic impact of the “new” crippling mysterious AIDS in the 1980’s, or the dilemma of a grieving Mother who insists on burying her child according to the birth gender, as a daughter, instead of James as he lived before being brutally slaughtered. Alan Sharpe’s graceful artistry covered this situation in a tender unfolding “Last Look” that is a knock-out.
“Play Date” is a hilariously good time of missed cues and mistaken identity for a new two-Mommy couple in a staunchly conservative neighborhood. “Breakfast is the Most Important Meal of the Day” pulls the heartstrings again when a near-senile Dad attributes the care he gets to his “favorite” son who is nowhere to be found while he castigates the dutiful one who carefully tends to him. Alan then mixes it up with “Happy Hour” that would sparkle as a television sketch, even already pre-cast with a Kevin Hart lookalike with jumpy mannerisms and spastic delivery galore. These are just a few of Sharpe’s precious collection that we hope will get more of an airing in future runs.