Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"Life of an Addict” Needs Some Rehab

By Deardra Shuler

I am always supportive of theatre and often encourage projects that are struggling to get its message out.  I know the work and expense that goes into financing a production can be all consuming.  Thus, I can appreciate the labor, and hopes and dreams involved in putting forth a production.  However, sometimes in their eagerness, producers kick the baby from the nest before it’s ready to fly.  And, in the case of “Life of An Addict,” sadly that is the case.

“Life of an Addict,” written and produced by Andrea Blaine, was presented at the Symphony Space, located on the corner of 95th Street and Broadway in Manhattan for one night only.  The storyline was about a religious woman named Angel (Shaenna Miller) and her addicted boyfriend Aaron (Eugene Daniels).  A devout woman, Angel is very involved in her church, as are her friends Mabel (Cecella McElveen) and Delise (Susu Bobien).  One day, her friend Eric, portrayed by Phillip Hatcher, introduces her to his cousin Aaron, whom he swears is a standup dude.  Judging on appearances alone he seems that way.  Selfish and conniving, Aaron has secrets.  He sees a good thing in Angel and gives her the romantic bum’s rush that leads to their living together and a hasty engagement. Addicted to love, Angel falls hard and does not see the warning signs.  Aaron is having problems finding work so Angel is paying the bills.  Aaron keeps talking love while disappearing for days at a time.  Suspicious, Angel finally finds out that Aaron is drug addicted and hangs out with unsavory characters.  He convinces Angel he is rehabilitating himself.  However, when he falls off the wagon he causes Angel’s life to spiral out of control.

The premise of the production is an important and valid one, thus the writing could use more flushing out.  However, where the play really needed work was in the set designing, costuming, sound and staging.  The way the set was designed needed rearranging.  For example, if there is a split stage featuring an interior set on one side and an exterior set on the other side, actors should not be walking across the stage from the interior set, stepping into the exterior set that represents outdoors.  But rather the actors should leave the apartment via the apartment door and move back stage into the exterior entrance that represents the street, so the locales are totally separate.  Also, there should be a walling constructed or a curtain that hides the stage hands and actors as they move around backstage, thus are invisible to the audience, which was not the case as structured.  The actresses looked like giants wearing those 6” heels that seemed uncomfortable (I noted they put on more sensible shoes in the latter part of the play).  And, I believe it was Sister Mabel who wore an ill fitting dress that seemed far too big for her, as were the braids that were so long they were falling into her face.  Now, this may seem rather picky to mention, but all of those things were distractions.  The audience becomes so focused on the big hair, the big dress, the big shoes, they miss the dialogue.  Also, there were periods where the sound fluctuated.  Therefore, while on occasion one actor’s mike was loud, the other actor’s mike was barely audible.

And last but not least, while the play was religiously influenced, the MC who kept coming out and making announcements during the play, did not need to keep asking the audience to stand up to hear the announcements.  This came off as if the play was a church setting and not a theatrical venue.  I must say that never in my theatre going history have I seen the audience being asked to stand to hear announcements.  The first time the audience accommodated but by the third request fewer people stood up as it seemed unnecessary, and it was.  So, the producers of the show should decide whether they are doing a church service or a theatrical production.

What can I say, the play is premature and requires more rehearsal time, a redesigned stage, better stage marking, costumes that do not encumber the actors, and all announcements made at the start of the show, announced one time only.  Otherwise, it just looks like a lot of egos out front trying to get noticed.  Of course, after the play, if the MC wants to introduce the show’s principles, please do.  That’s how it’s generally done.

The entire cast although adequate could use more rehearsal time.  Eugene Daniels,  Phillip Hatcher and Lucienne Taylor gave noteworthy performances.  Additional cast include Darren Copeland and Felicia Williams.  The dancers Crystal Furvin, Myoung Jin Son, Crystal Glass Warner, and Isaac Demetrius Zellner gave good performances as drug addicts and via their dance number.  The step dancers were delightful during intermission.

The play itself has promise.  As stated, it needs work in the production end of it.  I wish the play luck and hope changes will be done to make it a more comprehensive and viable production the next time the play runs.

I know, this is a strange review!  And, I hate to be so blunt -- but when inviting critics to review a play, make certain the play is at its best and does not come off as amateur hour. 


“Sassy Mamas” Of Cougars and Young Men

By Deardra Shuler

The Hadley Players presently featuring “Sassy Mamas,” have made some changes. They have changed their location from the Harlem School of the Arts, to the Poet’s Den Theatre, located at 309 East 108th Street in Manhattan and have a new Artistic Director, Roger Parris. Ward Nixon who has been the Artistic Director for 3 years recently resigned. Unfortunately, Ward was recently admitted to the hospital to have a tumor removed. So this writer wishes him well and better health in future.

A comedy directed by Pat Floyd, “Sassy Mamas” is the story of three middle aged women who find one another undergoing a transition in life. Having lost their men to death and divorce, they find their dating options slim. They now face the prospect of dating younger men; a prospect that one of the feisty women finds quite appealing while the other two are somewhat reluctant to take the plunge into Cougarville.

Via her play, Celeste Bedford Walker gives her characters professional and responsible positions. Wilhemina Sorenson portrayed by Cooki Winborn, is a national security advisor who works for the White House and lives at the Watergate Apartments in Washington, D.C. Wilhemina is embarrassed by the idea of dating a younger man so when journalist Wes Washington is sent to do a story on her she becomes concerned for her reputation when he falls for her. As a public figure, Wilhemina is nervous about being seen in the company of a younger man so thwarts his advances, despite the fact he tells her age doesn’t matter. Lonely and attracted to Wes (DeSean Stokes), Wilhemina is in denial and just can’t seem to get over the hurdle of the difference in their ages.

Her friend Jo Billie Massey (Richarda Abrams) is a hospital administrator in charge of running a busy hospital. Jo Billie is ready for a younger man and makes no bones about it. She has her life planned out to the tee and even wants the young man she has scoped out as her lover to sign a contract wherein he must put up and shut up, in exchange for a massive amount of money. Jo Billie runs the show telling LaDonte, portrayed by Donald Dash that he must quit his job, move in with her and do whatever she tells him to do and only speak when spoken to. She knows he has a child, but as far as Jo Billie is concerned LaDonte has to deal with his life outside of their arrangement on his own time. She insists his personal life must never impact her or interfere with their arrangement. If it does, he breaks the contract and must leave immediately. Conflicted, LaDonte, eventually swayed by the money, agrees to sign.

Gentle Mary Wooton (M. Drue Williams) was married to an Ambassador, who after years of marriage requested a divorce, thus leaving Mary devastated and depressed long after the divorce was final. Never having been alone and with grown daughters, Mary is afraid. She decides to remarry an older man who at least is among her circle of friends. That is, until Colby, her young gardener, played by Nicholas Miles Newton, complicates things. Although there is much hi-jinks and comedic aspects to “Sassy Mamas,” it depicts situations that many women face in the apex of their life when they have raised families and suddenly find themselves alone. They do not want to become nurse mates to older single men who are now ailing and slowing down and simply want someone to take care of them. A problem for women who have cared for their men and families most of their lives and now face freedom and the chance to do the things they couldn’t do under the rigors of family life.

Wilhelmina, Jo Billie and Mary find themselves tied to the conditioning of their former life while on the brink of a new life. So the production becomes the story of new beginnings and the courage to seize the day. You will have to see the play to learn the final outcome.

Costume design is by Katherine Roberson; set design by Bill Wood, Lighting and sound by Derrick Minter and Melanie Beal; props by Kimberlee Monroe and stage management by Robert Gonzalez.

Go see “Sassy Mamas” but better hurry though! The show runs Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sunday at 2:30 pm but is slated to close on Sunday, March 23rd.

Out of the Ashes

 By Deardra Shuler

Out of the ashes of hopelessness rises the phoenix of hope, determination and love. Through his fictionalized book “Out of Ashes,” the author Sutton L. Avery returns the reader to 1963 Birmingham, Alabama, wherein African Americans, then called Negroes and more often Nigger, by the white population, struggles to find dignity in their lives, albeit under the constant humiliation, hatred and harassment of the white population.

The story centers around a young educated black woman named Peg James who moves from Ohio to Birmingham to work for family relations. Unaware of the brutality of segregation, Peg soon learns the cruelty of the Black plight in the south. The book holds up a mirror reflecting the behavior of both the black and white community, when right across the street lives a former KKK member Seth Stevens, whose father Ken is a District Attorney while also being the acting Imperial Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan.

We see via the book the systematic terrorism the black community has to endure; their women raped, their men humiliated and their families murdered by the very law hiding behind those white Klan sheets. With no legal authority to turn to, the Black Community after suffering slavery now find themselves in the clutches of Jim Crow. With whole families disappearing and weekly murders done for the entertainment of the white population, the Civil Rights Movement becomes the only hope for a community paralyzed by fear.

Although fiction, “Out of Ashes” focuses on the reality of what the African American community suffered under the rigors of a white Birmingham population during the Civil Rights era in order to get equal rights. It’s a book every black and white child should read so they never forget what others went through so they can enjoy their freedom today. There is still work to be done to banish the ignorance, fear and hatred causing one race to senselessly murder, falsely imprison and suppress another due to the color of their skin. It was only through self examination that some white characters in the book realized their abuse was wrong and could only end with them. They sought to break the cycle of hatred that had been passed down through white families for generations.

 “Out of Ashes” offers change. It demonstrates that from the very ashes of destructive behavior, love can give birth to a new and better future built by all concerned.