If Ntzake Shange’s For Colored Girls . . . gave birth in a 21st century DC hospital, her name would be roughdraftofmylife. Upon looking at her at birth, one would see her potential. And in watching her grow and shape, one would witness her promise. Written and directed by the soul-gifted Lauren Rhodes Cooper, roughdraftofmylife is a peak into the minds, hearts, lives, flaws, quirks, personalities, thoughts, and experiences of an urban-living, DC-based woman of color: each character representing some essence of her or someone she’s known.
The award-winning roughdraftofmylife is a living play, growing and adapting to the city and time in which it currently resides. Having started in NYC and currently making its digs in Cooper’s hometown, the play is constantly changing to insure its connection to its audience. As a DC born and bred resident, I can attest to its relation here and vouch that it belongs in the U Street Corridor.
Through an intermingling of dialog, lyric, stanza, prose, and Virginia Woolf-type stream of consciousness flow with background music, the characters voice many areas that can either enrich or plague our existence in today’s society from music and dance, to lovers and relationships, to food, to the pains of miscarriage, to pregnancies and STDs, to family. Joys and insecurities, pain and bliss—all represented well by a cast of four women: Barbara Asare-Bediako (Woman #1), Carolyn Barrett (Woman #2), Teresa Michelle Lasley (Woman #3) and Alison Carney (Woman #4).
During my attendance at the open dress rehearsal, I realized that a few of the more powerful portions of the play demanded my mentioning, without giving it all away. The truth found between a little girl “always wanting a daddy” and looking for love in all the wrong places spoke the reality of so many fatherless women. Its poignancy misted my eyes for friends I’ve known. A sequence praising a DC-bread genre of music (Go-Go) as well as the intensity found on the dance floor as only experienced by us, caught me with the warm fuzzies of nostalgia and home. “This is the kind of escape that can only be explained on the dance floor,” said Woman #1. The move from loves to the sensuality and comparison between food and sex was intense. My discomfort in witnessing the scene from my chair aluded well to the actors’ talents—“My lover’s neck is delicious,” they breathed in unison. And the climatic hard truth of life, sex and love just after required Woman #4’s hindsight solidified point: “Shoulda stayed a virgin.”
The actors’ talent and cohesion took this play from being simply entertainment to a unified understanding as if parts of the audience members’ spirits leaped from their bosoms and possessed the actors, demanding their sincerity. The power of Asare-Bediako’s most heart-wrenching moments of motherhood and passion stilled my breath. I heard her—loud and clear. My heart ached for her. Barrett was phenomenally a DC chick. She was the most real and tangible in her role on stage. I knew her—she was the friends that I grew up with. She was me at some stages in my life. And the points of her character’s shared heartbreak—I believed her as I would if she were my sister, sitting in my living room, talking and having a drink. Lasley’s distress in the portrayal of her character was unnerving and loud, justifiably so in someone searching for love in the wrong places or in the appearance of love to heal a heart broken—such that I wanted to calm her, soothe her, help her “see.” Carney’s character seemed to fall in and out between real and overly perky. Admittedly, in the midst of the stuttered flow, I wasn’t sure if this was intentional or the result of a new actress finding her groove. And—on the other hand—this seemed to fall in line with the play’s flip flop between individual characters and (potentially) the thoughts of one woman. Nonetheless, Carney’s portrayal of a character whose obvious life inexperience (or at least a lower level of experience in comparison of the other characters) being the cause of her immediate judgment (whether right and insightful, or a little off) shown for the other characters’ confessions was sublime.
Cooper was successful in joining so many elements of truth in the lives of DC urbanesque women into a single act play. Though lovely in its concept and delivery, this writer sees room for continued growth and wisdom to descend upon both the artist and her product. Because this is a living play, and the writer has only just scratched the surface of her greatness, I have no doubt that roughdraftofmylife will most certainly epitomize its initial intentions and revel in the greatness that her “mother” has laid out for her. Bravo!
Photo at top, Lauren Rhodes Cooper. In other photo, Barbara Asare-Bediako (top left), Alison Carney (top right), Carolyn Barrett (bottom left), and Teresa Michelle Lasley (bottom right).
By Lauren Cooper Rhodes
One performance remaining:
Saturday, August 27, 2 p.m. Brunch, 3.p.m. Curtain
2001 11th Street, NW