Leaves, Trees, Forest at MPAACT | Theater review
Paul Notice’s new play shows how quickly and irrevocably ambition can muddy principle.
By Zac Thompson
Published: February 7, 2013
Charles Bowery (Trigney Morgan) is a bright, idealistic senior at Georgetown University with big plans to change the world after graduation. Trouble is, the world isn’t convinced he’s as special as he thinks he is. Charles can’t find a job—at least not the type of job he wants—and he’s already struggling to afford such essentials as housing and weed. He would like a paid position on the staff of Rep. Clayton (Marc A. Rogers), the oily congressman he interns for, but Clayton isn’t inclined to help anyone but Clayton.
At first, Paul Notice’s new play feels like not much more than the record of a quarter-life crisis, with all of the entitled whining that entails. But then the playwright shifts gears. Through his fellow intern and on-again, off-again girlfriend (Shayla Jarvis), Charles learns that the socially conservative Clayton has an extramarital relationship with a man named Nathan (played as a light-in-the-loafers caricature by Terry Francois).
Granted, it’s not the most original twist of all time. But as Charles ruthlessly uses the information about Clayton to his advantage, Notice shows how quickly and irrevocably ambition can muddy principle. In the end, both men are two sides of the same coin. In Carla Stillwell’s brisk staging, UIC undergrad Morgan plays Charles with energy and confidence. More important, he brings a quality to the character that’s not in great supply on the page: likability.
To see the orginal publishing please click HERE
Review by K.D. Hopkins (Chicago Theatre Beat)
Carla Stillwell’s brilliant new work is about the nature of family obligations, secrets, and the emotional labyrinth that is the Black church in America. The Catholic Church has been the most prevalent in the media with sex scandals and lawsuits. The church in the Black community is often the foundation and only source of family and security. They are bound by loyalty and secrets are held even tighter. In these days of full disclosure and over-exposure, there is very little heard or written about the Black church. Does that mean that there is no scandal or depraved behavior? Not by a long shot.
Bodies builds a story that encompasses the subtleties of a religious subculture that has always had to protect itself from larger society. The church is a refuge from racism, poverty, and quite often, the source of nurture. The Black family at the church in Bodies has a legacy to maintain.
The wonderful Andre Teamer plays the son who followed in his father’s footsteps to become a man of God. Teamer has the resonant preacher’s voice and the powerful posture of a man who uses the pulpit well. It is a stunning contrast when his character faces a heart wrenching family decision. Teamer’s emotional range simmers under the surface and releases like steam.
Rev. Black is responsible for his younger brother Calvin, an antisocial man who never fit in with his religious heritage. William R. Riley’s portrayal of Calvin Black is deceptively brilliant. Riley’s Calvin seems to be the sullen family scion living on the good graces of his late father’s legacy and his older brother’s desire to be a forgiving man of God. Legacy and ambition turns out to be a dangerous mask of denial. Calvin’s motivations turn sinister and Riley portrays the emergence of what is termed a reprobate character in a stunning turn of events. The scene where he is confronted with his behavior is chilling. His face becomes a mask of fury. He is like a cornered and feral animal forced to admit to brutal crimes.
Corena Black (Ebony Joy) is the very portrait of a minister’s wife, as I know it. Joy creates the archetypal minister’s wife. She is devoted, strong willed, and subservient only to a point. The minister’s wife is always the power behind the pulpit. That has been my experience with every Baptist church I have experienced. Corena is an upstanding Christian woman who loves her husband. Stillwell has given this minister’s wife a sexy backbone that is mighty refreshing. Joy is voluptuous and funny. She brings levity and a grounding influence to the action. She is very skilled at turning from that levity to being haunted by a ghost and accusations of denial akin to Peter’s denial of Jesus at Gethsemane. At first the intermingling of flash-forward and flashback is jarring – but as the action continues, the present and future as recent past becomes very effective. Corena’s fervent prayers and calls to God for strength struck me to the core. She sees a horrible crime as the result of sickening behavior and her benign denial. Joy’s portrayal of shock and nausea never goes into Grand Guignol over-the-top emoting.
Sidney Miller beautifully portrays the character of Lane, the arranged Christian wife for Calvin. In the words of Pastor Black, Lane is a good Christian woman washed in the blood of the lamb. She is devout and has saved herself for marriage into the age of what is still considered spinsterhood. She wears what is called the visage of Churchie Mae, as was defined by some of my relatives when describing women of God. She wears modest attire with no “scarification of the flesh” (ear piercing or tattoos) because that is how women are told to behave according to the Bible. Miller is heartbreaking as she comes to see that her dreams of a marriage ‘sent to her from God’ are not only an illusion but also, a nightmare.
Caren Blackmore plays the haunting wraithlike Natalie Black, the daughter of Calvin, and a woman who abandoned her. Blackmore spends most of the evening behind a translucent screen backlit and swathed in flowing red. Her childlike voice rings to the core, speaking from the books of Lamentations and the crucifixion described in the New Testament. When she is not behind the screen, Blackmore’s delicate features and petite stature project a young child. She is innocence and yet innocence ruined by the betrayal of those who are supposed to protect her.
Stilwell’s writing is gorgeously brutal and builds to a not so simple climax that evoked gasps from the audience and from me. Her dialogue is economical, with just the right touch of scripture and ‘amen’s’ thrown in for proper evocation of church life and church business. Chuck Smith’s direction is smooth and metered, giving a surreal quality to the ghost visions. The set looks like every Baptist church office of which I have ever been privy. It is authentic and spare with a stained glass cyc wall. The lighting (designed by Casey Diers) gets a special mention because it is integral to the action. The lights signal a great deal of foreshadowing and a sinister motif.
I found myself sitting for a few moments after I left the theater. Bodies’ brutality is the stuff of nightmares, but also an eye opener for those who say that “it’s not in my backyard.”
The Reader 9/29/11 - RECOMMENDED
Speaking in Tongues: The Chronicles of Babel
Playwright Shepsu Aakhu interviewed eight members of his extended family about the years they spent living in the Washington Park housing project, which used to stand near Lake Park and 41st. The resulting show, consisting of verbatim excerpts from those interviews, is digressive, making the two acts appear nearly identical and the two-hour running time feel destinationless. I couldn't have cared less (about that). Aakhu's insightful, engaged, articulate interviewees make extraordinary company, and director Andrea Dymond's exquisite cast speak with the kind of graceful candor that makes everything ring true. Best of all, Aakhu understands that good theater isn't social work or group therapy. He offers no lessons but simply charts the evolution of complex lives lived in a nearly impossible situation. --Justin Hayford
'Ghosts' lays race, adolescence bare
By Nina Metz, Tribune reporter
Every so often a play comes along that captures the heady mix of comedy and frightening unpredictability that defines teenage life. These kinds of plays can be some of the most exciting nights at the theater, which is the case with "Ghosts of Atwood," the terrific new show from playwright Shepsu Aakhu about the turbulent months he spent boarding at a Wisconsin military school in the late 1970s — the rare black face in a sea of white.
As a portrayal of schoolboy camaraderie and peer pressure, Aakhu's play bears a resemblance to Barry Levinson's 1996 film "Sleepers" and more pointedly Alan Bennett's 2004 play "The History Boys." But "Ghosts of Atwood" (produced by MPAACT on the Greenhouse mainstage) stands on its own. Though it has some minor issues that need addressing, it has all the makings of a breakout hit and deserves a long run.
At the play's center is Quinn (Wardell Julius Clark), a sweet-faced kid from Chicago who is beaten to a pulp upon his arrival at the school, Atwood. The hazing has less to do with race than his newbie status — but the racial tension is ever present. "This was a brand new alone," Quinn says. "I was alone with white people." It is a very good performance from Clark, who portrays Quinn's naiveté with a real sense of texture and human nuance.
An upperclassman named Whitehead is the only other black on campus (a first-rate Corey Spruill, wound tight in all the right ways), but for the most part he leaves Quinn to fend for himself in the dorms — a hothouse of unchecked adolescent energy fueled by testosterone, marijuana and Led Zeppelin.
The play is a major step forward for MPAACT, which is one of the city's only black storefront theater companies. Not everything works. Casey Diers' lighting is clunky and the script could use some edits — the too-long, abstract preamble needs to go. But the play has serious commercial potential. Director Andrea J. Dymond pulls no punches. The production is light enough on its feet to sidestep anything too earnest — horrible as these boys are, they are also entertaining doofs — and the show has a real sense of momentum.
Brooding and complicated, the boys are quick to taunt one another but just as quick to crack jokes. Fistfights break out with alarming frequency. The school itself doles out its share of physical punishments. And at night, under the cover of darkness, the boys are haunted by "ghosts" — their euphemism for a particular adult who roams the halls with odious intentions.
Dymond and her crackerjack, 13-member ensemble (including Dan Loftus as the stern but fair drill sergeant and Zack Shornick as a bratty jerkoff cadet) never once let up. There is a locker room mentality that courses through everything these boys say and do, and Aakhu brings it all to life with dialogue that rings true.
WE ARE PROUD TO INTRODUCE OUR NEW FILM JAM SERIES!
Join us as we celebrate feature length and short films by local filmmakers around the Chicagoland area!
The JAM begins Thursday, September 30th at 10PM with our Kick-Off event! There will be wine and cheese, an engaging discussion, and previews of some the films to be offered during the series!
Here is just a taste of what's to come...
Friday, October 1st, 2010
Three short films directed and produced by David Shanks
Saturday, October 2nd, 2010
A documentary on Fred Hampton produced by Ray Baker
Friday, October 8th, 2010
"The Gilded Six Bits" directed by Mark Spencer
Saturday, October 9th, 2010
"The Ballad of Sadie Hawkins" directed by Mark Spencer
...with more to follow!
Admission for each evening is just $10!
Posted September 4, Comments 0
So, Monday, Aug 30th, MPAACT held a nice little cocktail party to welcome our new artistic associates and resident artist. This is a new thing for us and we are most excited! See the invite below...
|Andrea J. Dymond|
|Keith Josef Adkins|
|Lenora Inez Brown|
|Aum Mu Ra|
|PRODUCTION STAGE MANAGER|
|Lisa Johnson Willingham|
|Aum Mu RA|
|William S. Carroll|
|Eddie Jordan III|
|Nambi E. Kelley|
|Sean Raul Neron|
From the Chicago Public Radio's website:
Chicago Playwright Imagines Life After Reparations
Chicago playwright Shepsu Aakhu says he didn’t make up any of the atrocities depicted in his new play. Ten Square imagines what life might be like for African Americans in a society where reparations were actually made for slavery. Aakhu says contemporary and historical political systems helped fuel his dystopic vision – the post-war division of Germany, the cold-war isolation of Cuba and the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine. He and lead actress Carla Stillwell spoke with Richard Steele.
Click here to listen to the interview
MPAACT welcomes your reactions to our current show, Ten Square, a co-production with Pegasus Players. Please leave your thoughts, impressions, and questions below. What moment stood out to you? What did the play leave you thinking about? We would be honored if you'd share your thoughts with us.
Lenora Inez Brown is a freelance dramaturg and the Head of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism at The Theatre School at DePaul University. As "Ten Square's" dramaturg, she posed a few questions to playwright Shepsu Aakhu to gain a sense of how he set about to create the play's dystopian world.
Many futuristic or dystopian worlds often respond to major questions within the current society. What prompted this story for you?
SA: The reparations conversations in the Black community, and how they're hyper- focused on money, caught up in money fantasies like we do with the lottery.
How does, if at all, the recent apology from the US government impact this story?
SA: It feeds the plausibility of it. The country has shown so much movement in my lifetime. It just supports the idea that anything is possible.
This story is set in the future and in an area that was initially considered to be the ideal place. Are there similar places like this in the real world? What triggers their evolution?
SA: America itself is an enormous social experiment. I don't know how idyllic it is for anyone except a very small minority of the population, but it is certainly a daring experiment. For some- the experiment has worked well, for others- not. Ten Square is wrapped up in the potential of America, both positive and negative. I suspect it is the same with most republics, so much potential both positive and negative. France, England, Liberia, Israel, Ghana, all come to mind as similar places with respect to potential.
What else did you consider when creating this fictional world?
It was important to me for this world to be plausible. Not just plausible, but tangible. In storytelling there is this concept called "the suspension of disbelief". This tendency -"not" to believe -can be a small obstacle, or a large one. I wanted it to be as small as possible, so I drew on real world events. The wall is mostly associated with Berlin, but there has also been a lot of discussion of "walling in" the Palestinians in Israel, or the U.S. "walling out" the Illegal aliens migrating from Central America.
The behavior of the state was patterned after Cuba and it's cold War isolation from much of the west. Particularly interesting to me was the propaganda battle between Cuba and the U.S. -- much of which was waged over radio airwaves. I also drew from war propaganda in general- such as the leaflet drops in Iraq and Iran during the war on Terror.
Do any other contemporary political situations influence this play?
Yes. There is the ample perspective provided by the American Indian reservations (Or Native American if you prefer). This relationship between the greater U.S. government and these little pockets of Sovereignty -- ripe with so much contradiction and conflict of interest was fascinating to me. I am intrigued by the idea that the U.S. government surrenders the rule of Constitution law on a reservation and allows the "locals" to self govern, but these local laws cannot extent beyond the reservation itself. So in many places the effect of this sovereignty is the encouragement of the isolation of it residents. But these communities rarely have the resources to take care of their own citizens, so what results is this internal rot of poverty, poor education, and despair. The residents will lose much of their identity and self-determination if they leave the reservation, but if they stay they are relegated to places with few resources, and little ability to provide for their family's basic needs.
What are your thoughts on Utopian communities?
SA: Nice idea...Don't know that they ever really work. The thing that makes people so special is that we have the ability to both perceive and define our experiences. I don't know that you can ever get an experience to be perceived and defined the same way by everyone.
What draws you to create for the theatre?
SA: Storytelling is deep in my family tradition. I am drawn to stories, but I am also drawn to art that one can create with others. Theater and music are the best collaborations I have ever experienced.
What does this piece offer in terms of understanding community?
SA: Some things I have to leave for the audience. Sometimes people ask: "What does the play have to say?" For me I am always fascinated with the question: "What does the audience have to say?" Most of how the play speaks to an audience is defined by what the audience brings into the theatre with them. No matter what your experiences with community, the play will have resonance. What that resonance is can only be defined by what the audience comes to the play with. So, what the play offers differs from person to person. I can only discuss what it offers to me, and frankly I think that's the least interesting view.
The Black Theatre Alliance announced its nominations for the 2008/09 season today. MPAACT received 14 nominations including Best Play, Best Direction (2), Best Writer (2) and Best Ensemble(3). We would like to thank everyone involved in making our 2008/2009 season a success. We also congratulate company member Nambi E. Kelley for her writer nomination.
For full list of MPAACT nominations click "more"
Acting Afrikan Centered Theatre Awards Carla Stillwell Chris T Fascia Ghost of Atwood Review Heather Ireland Kevin Douglas Kosi Dasa Lydia Diamond Lydia R. Diamond Mignon McPherson Nance Radical Hearsay Review Shepsu Aakhu Stage Black Ten Square The Inside Writing