Thursday, June 11, 2015

Reviews and Essays by Rhonda Davis

(My usual statement)
The Reasons
     I decided to name the blog "My Heart Sings and Cries",  is because it constantly reminds me
that just like a heart monitor, life has ups and downs, and that as a writer I must be able to
tap into not just the painful experiences in my life, but also the joys and triumphs.
     I was asked what genre of writing am I going to concentrate on; the only answer that I could think of
was conflicted due to the life I've lived so far. I find that I can write across a multitude of genres because I've
experienced so many things. I love fiction, and I love poetry, so as I continue my classes working towards my degree in English/Theater. Look back here for my diversity, and I hope that you all enjoy what my mind has to offer. I welcome your comments, and to all my fellow bibliophiles, WRITE ON!

Re-Published with Permission from The Broad Street Review

  A Black Grandmother’s Perspective

by Rhonda Davis

In the opening scene of “Brownsville Song”, the playwright’s words, delivered by actress Catrina Ganey, who plays Lena the family matriarch of the play, resounded within my soul. “I am scooped out like a jack-o-lantern” she says, as she puts into words how she feels about losing her grandson Tray to gun violence.
Being a black grandmother myself, and raising my grandson in the city of Philadelphia, West Philly to be exact, I was drawn to this character and the strength it takes for a single black woman to have to take on the loving challenge of raising your grandchildren after already raising your own children. Many,  many times, I also have felt scooped out, where there is just no more left to give.
Kimber Lee gives the audience a look into the way wheat sometimes has to grow along with the weeds in violent neighborhoods. She shows us through the eyes of a strong, determined, and proud black woman how sometimes no matter what you do, you cannot protect your children from the sometimes brutal outcomes they encounter, but at the same time Kimber Lee wants us to see that not all young black men that are victims of violence are associated with drugs and gangs.
Curtiss Cook Jr. played the role of Tray in a way that made me think of my own grandson. You could see his struggle while trying to please his grandmother, by becoming someone she could be proud of, and taking on the role of a loving brother and protector of his little half-sister Dee. However,. behind it all there is an anger in him that is possibly being soothed by his choice of sports, boxing. Many cannot comprehend how much anger and pain exist in the children that have been abandoned to be raised by their grandparents. Some may say, “well they are lucky to have their grandparents step in to love them”, but the scars that are left behind are deep and can cut to the very core of a child’s mental health.
Devine, Tray’s little sister, played by Kaatje Welsh gives a poignant portrayal of how damaging abandonment can be for children. She is aloof and very sad to be only 9/10 years old. She was left behind a dumpster at four years of age by her drug addicted mother Merrell, played by Sung Yun Cho, and found there a day later by her grandmother Lena who took her home and raised her as her own.
Even though Merrell (Cho), has gone into rehab and is desperately trying to get her life back on track, the playwright shows that this road is a long and painful one for someone to walk, but with the love and forgiveness of family it can be achieved. Lena does not make this easy for Merrell but through the eyes of Tray, Lena is given back the wisdom she has taught him over the years. He makes Lena realize that everyone makes mistakes, and everyone should be given another chance in life.
The lives in this production intertwine so parallel to what I have witnessed as a mother and grandmother, raising sons, and now a grandson in the city of Philadelphia, that I was often brought to tears, or laughter. and was often nodding knowingly that night at the Suzanne Roberts Theater.
Kudos to the Philadelphia Theater Company for producing what is needed in this time of heightened violence in our neighborhoods.

Re-Published with Permission from The Broad Street Review
Memphis Grabs Hearts with Soul

by Rhonda Davis

The buzz began at Barra-Rossa’s restaurant on the corner of 10th and Walnut St. where I met my theater going buddies Ruth, and Debra. We had mentioned to our waiter that we were going to see Memphis, at the Walnut St. Theater, and the excitement in his voice, as he told us how good it was, let us know we were in for an extra special night.

Memphis, winner of four Tony awards, and four Drama Desk awards, is the Walnut St. Theater’s last show of their season and they are going out with an electrifying, mind blowing, heart grabbing, foot stomping, do-wop, head bopping, bang!

It is a story set in the early 1950’s, about a white deejay., Huey Calhoun (Christopher Sutton), who has a deep adoration for rhythm and blues, and gospel music. He finds himself also drawn romantically to Felicia Farrell (Kimber Sprawl), who is a black singer looking for her big break.

Needless to say, this romantic attraction did not sit well with Felicia’s brother Delray Farrell (Philip Michael Baskerville), or with Huey’s Mama (Mary Martello). It was a time when relationships between whites and blacks, especially in the south, were taboo, to say the least.

Oh What a Night

In the opening scene, which takes place at Delray’s club, down on Beale St. , which is the black side of the tracks in Memphis, there is a lot of dancing and singing going on. (Please forgive me Prof. Zelitch as I revert back to my Ebonics and exclaim that, there was a lot of hoofin’ and sangin’ goin’ on!)

Huey is drawn to the soulful sounds coming from inside the club, and everything comes to a halt when he slowly steps in. However, when asked by Felicia why he is there, we see that Huey is anything but fearful of where he is, but is a ball of fire that has been ignited by the black culture which he says is “part of his soul”. He quickly becomes the center of attention in this story that is craftily told by Director Bernard Harvard.

Harvard has taken a sensitive time in our history and turned it into a kaleidoscope of emotions that range from joy to pain, and back again. However, he does it in a way that only gives the audience time to reflect on what is wrong with American society in short spurts, before he is having us laughing at ourselves and how bad things used to be.

Harvard is genius at putting together bits and pieces of history to give us this blast from the past, and without giving away too much of the story, just know that I know that it was Elvis and not Huey Calhoun that was asked what school he went to back then on the radio. This was a way to tell if the artist was white or black because schools were segregated back then.

Many say that the story is based on Daddy-O" Dewey Phillips (May 13, 1926 – September 28, 1968), one of rock 'n' roll's pioneering disk jockeys, who saw the benefit of playing black music on the radio when many other stations would not dare open their doors to it. Although the play gives the flavor of Dewey Phillips’s story, Harvard weaves a tale that shows us he did his research on this one, giving us a somewhat truth, while telling the truth.

Kudos to costume designer Gail Baldoni. I sat there thinking, did she have access to my mother’s closet. I could almost smell my mother’s perfume as the female dancers, choreographed by Richard Stafford, boogie-woogied all over that stage. The costumes were a character in themselves, as was the  scenic design by Peter Barbieri. The details in the costumes and set breathed life into the characterization of the play giving the human characters extreme believability.

Our History Too

For this theater goer, I guess the one thing I missed that night was the presence of more black faces. This is truly the type of play that our children should see. It gives an excellent look into pre-civil rights movement marches and puts a stamp on why our parents and grandparents fought so hard for the freedoms we have today. This play shows that even though sometimes we don’t think things have changed, they have. We have come a long way, even though we have a long way to go. I walked out of that theater with a renewed hope that it may not be as good as we might want it to be, but it sure is better than it used to be.

No comments:

Post a Comment