“The black male body is the great American sacrifice”
Dr. Barbara Ann Teer’s National Black Theatre presents Facing Our Truth: 10 Minute Plays About Trayvon, Race and Privilege, showcasing six plays that candidly address issues and topics like: the institutionalized genocide of young black males in America; intra-racial stigmas that Blacks accept and perpetuate within their own communities; perceptions of blackness, ethno-cultural empathy and the ideology that possibly America has a deep seated fear of “black”; and all the connotations associated with it. Through these series of plays, it is evident that in facing our truth about the construct of race and how it is upheld in America, and globally, that there must be a genuine and honest re-shaping of how African American legacies, history and identity are defined. This series of plays make it painfully clear that if true change is to take place, there must be a resistance of negative images that present a distorted and dishonest representation of black in general.
The series begins with the play Some Other Kid (above) written by Playwright A. Rey Pamatmat. Some Other Kid shows the life of everyday high school students played with youthful zeal and compassion by (Reynaldo Pinella, Khadim Diop and Renee Rises) and what concerns them: that first crush, playing video games and talks about heading off to college. In Some Other Kid, the young man most excited about college does not make it home from the store getting Sour Patch Kids. Presumably, his only crime was being young and black. Many truths are exchanged within their youthful banter, but this statement out of the mouth of one of the youth rang clear: “No one’s life is better or more important than anyone one else’s”. You are left pondering, “So why is it that so many young black males are killed so often?” “Why is one demographic so targeted?” “Is the goal to make black men an endangered species?”
In Night Visions, the playwright Dominique Morisseau, delicately weaves into the dialogue between an African-American couple, who witness a crime in the dark of the night, the issue of intra-racial appropriation of negative stereotypes about blacks amongst themselves. It is easy to speak about race in terms of black and white, but this play reveals that oftentimes, negative stereotypes about blacks are subtly upheld within the black community as well. The wife automatically assumed that the man committing the crime was black, though she was not quite sure, it was late at night and she did not even see his face. This play speaks to the power of stereotypes, and how invasive they can become. In the words of the husband played convincingly and with compassion by Chinaza Uche, “In your mind we (black men) are the default”. The wife played with much fervor, range, and grit by Maechi Aharanwa, refuted in a display of ethno-cultural empathy, “I’m also one of us”. The reality still remained, that she assumed the criminal to be black without actually clearly seeing him.
In Colored, the playwright Winter Miller beautifully uses language and dynamic characters to show how the negative connotations associated with color seep through the cracks into many aspects of day to day life. In Colored, the lives of three women: black, white and Asian intersect on a busy subway and the conversation that unfolds gives a glimpse into the struggles of women, and how racism and sexism overlap in certain instances. The play begins with the black woman rebuking a man for pulling his penis out on the subway platform. It is through this incident that the women unite. The Asian woman played spot on and with great attention to detail by Renee Rises, offers the ladies dried mangos out of a plastic bag. The white woman played with amazing range, subtlety and humor by Marisa Duchowny, reaches right in and grabs a few. Finally, the black woman reaches in using a napkin. The Asian woman remarks to the white woman “Your hands are clean. I can tell”. This commentary on black being associated with dirt, darkness, and a crime is pointedly laid out in juxtaposition to white (or those aiming to assimilate into whiteness) being associated with being able to get away with murder, and being clean.
This theme is also prevalent in Dan O’Brien’s Ballad of Zimmerman, where TJ Allen who’s perfectly cast as he clearly personifies the youthful passion, resistance, and power of a young black man in a fight for his life. Cedric Leiba Jr. convincingly gave an honest depiction of George Zimmerman within this play, but the most striking element of all was the “smiling face of George Zimmerman” in the background, and the commentary of the female lawyer, played skillfully by Marisa Duchowny who states “…and after being acquitted, he gets his gun back to go free into society”. No consequences.
In Mona Mansour and Tala Manassah’s Dressing, you are left with the question, “Does it really matter how nice you dress, how tight you button up your collar, how low your pants sag below your waist, if all that is seen is your black skin anyway?” In Dressing, we get a glimpse into the psyche of a mom raising a black, male child. The mother played with tear-jerking honesty, humility and skill by C. Kelly Wright takes us through the stages of a mother wanting the best for her son, watching him go on into the world, and inevitably dying young. Upon learning of her son’s death, the mom states, “Ever since the founding of this country, black men have been vulnerable by way of the body that they inhabit.”
No More Monsters
The series of plays end with Marcus Gardley’s No More Monsters where a black male psychiatrist gives a white female psychiatric patient the opportunity to genuinely experience what it is like to be a black man in America. In the end, she is diagnosed with “Negro-phobia” ( the fear of black men), and realizes that she could not handle the realities of that life, and even quips, “Why would you do that to me?” At one point to save her own life, she screams out, “Wait! Don’t shoot! I am white!” Morisseau intricately delineates how privilege and the black male experience are often in juxtaposition to one another.
The directors made great use of the nice, large circular shaped theater space with high ceilings. The set design was minimal, though when props were used, it was deliberate. The transitions between plays were smooth, and the lighting and sound design of Alan C. Edwards and DJ Val worked cohesively together.
With the help of any amazing ensemble, and under the direction of Ebony Golden and Axel Avin Jr., Facing Our Truth clearly reveals that we must transparently teach the truth about this part of American history. We must continue to uproot the lies that have been imbedded in the conscience of America, and around the globe, about blackness. These plays left the audience with a sense of responsibility and duty to begin to re-shape, re-teach and redefine this part of American history. Historic institutions like The National Black Theatre in Harlem are the cornerstones that hold together the rich legacy of American history. The very existence of institutions like the National Black Theatre and the social activism that it initiates are a constant reminder of the richness and complexity of our past, while encouraging us all to be the change we want to see in the world.
Last show for Facing Our Truth, at 7 p.m. Monday, February, 10, 2014.
Visit the website for the National Black Theatre to purchase tickets for this and other upcoming events and productions.
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New York, NY 10035