African-American Themes on Local Stages
by Anthony Chase
Several shows with African-American themes are playing on Buffalo’s stages this week. Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye continues its run in the Paul Robeson Theatre at the African American Cultural Center at 350 Masten Avenue. Adapted from Morrison’s 1970 novel by Lydia R. Diamond, the story follows 11-year-old Pecola Breedlove, an African-American girl growing up in impoverished Loraine, Ohio in the early 1940s. Pecola is convinced that all the obstacles of her life could be overcome with ease, if only her eyes were blue.
Told in economical and theatrical style, this eventful year in Pecola’s life is narrated by her friends, sisters Claudia and Frieda MacTeer. I found the production to be both charming and powerful. The characters are written vividly and are presented with great affection and enthusiasm.
Co-directed by Paulette Harris and Ibn Shabazz, the cast features Ebony Pace as Pecola, Germaine Robinson as Claudia, Ciandre M. Taylor as Frieda, Annette Christian as Mrs. Breedlove, Debbi Davis as Mama, Ashley Dolson as Maureen, John Vines as Soaphead Church, and Marcus Thompson Jr. as Cholly. The Bluest Eye continues through March 7.
Belle at Ujima
Meanwhile, the Ujima Company opens Belle, a drama by Florence Gibson at TheaterLoft, directed by Lorna C. Hill, and starring Shanntina Moore, Kasey Shea, Terrence Prince, Kevin Kelleher, and Catherine Horton.
Belle is the Reconstruction era story of two recently freed slaves, husband and wife, who venture north in search of a new beginning: “When they encounter a white woman fighting for the suffrage movement, they become entwined in the social upheaval that epitomizes post Civil War America.”
The play examines how “black women were overlooked by the suffrage movement, used as pawns in the social and political upheaval of the post Civil War era and generally vulnerable in the midst of well-intentioned and misguided individuals seeking social justice.” Belle runs through March 28.
Black Pearl Sings! at O’Connell & Company
Black Pearl Sings!, a play with music by Frank Higgins, has been directed by Kathleen Gaffney for O’Connell & Company. “In the midst of the Great Depression, Susannah Mullally travels the country, recording lost traditional songs for the Library of Congress. Hoping to find the one song that will bring her long-awaited recognition, she discovers Pearl Johnson in a Texas prison. With a soulful voice and a wealth of African-American spiritual songs, Pearl seeks information and a chance at freedom. Now each woman must decide how much of herself she is willing to give to get what she wants in return.”
The cast features Mary Craig as Alberta “Pearl” Johnson and Mary Kate O’Connell as Susannah Mullally.
Harvest at Subversive Theatre
The fourth installment of Subversive Theatre Collective’s annual “Workers’ Power Play Series,” Harvest, a play by the great American writer of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes, follows the real-life events of a strike by migrant farmworkers in southern California in the 1930s. Hughes focuses on the diverse ethnic communities of the laborers as they overcome their differences to fight for better working conditions.
Subversive Theatre Collective has endeavored to streamline the script, which originally featured over 50 characters. They’ve got it down to about 20 actors. In addition, this version reportedly incorporates some of Hughes’ more activist poems and a number of union songs of the 1930s.
Directed by Kurt Schneiderman, the production features Rob Dziechciarz, Hasheen DeBerry, Leon S. Copeland, Jr., Cynthia Maxwell, Lawrence Rowswell, Lisa Dee, David Butterfield, Martha Rothkopf, Gary Darling, Tom Izard, Kevin Dennis, Eric Mowery, and others, and runs through March 20 at the Manny Fried Playhouse in the Great Arrow Building at 255 Great Arrow Avenue.
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