From the Aisle

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By Linda Armstrong

Black Women, Let’s Talk Hair
Would you ever think that the topic of Black women’s hair would be enough to create a play around? Specifically, a one-woman show, written and performed by the same person. Well, it turns out that Venus Opal Reese has written and is performing in Split Ends at La MaMa E.T.C., located at 74A E. 4th Street, between 2nd Avenue and the Bowery in Manhattan from Feb. 1-11.
Now, this production isn’t just Reese giving her views on Black women’s hair or sharing her stories about her own hair. She actually interviewed many women, asking each 25 questions about their hair. For instance, asking them when they felt betrayed by their hair. The answers that she received and will share in the show are not stereotypical responses, but have a much more broad scope.
This play promises to be much more than a debate about the beauty of kinky or straight hair. Reese, in a recent interview, shared that the play will look at how Black people have “pimped” other Black people to make it. She has quite different views on Madame C.J. Walker than most people do. Reese shares the production will have dramatic and humorous moments. “I bring out the history of Black hair in America through rap and slides, and the political history of it. I also dance. I do storytelling. I’m also a mime,” this creative artist said.
Addressing who she has geared the play towards, Reese explained, “Progressive thinkers, people interested in empowering Black women. I’m writing for a Black audience, not a white one. Many times, Black women are not honored or heard. We’re always positive and negative, you’re either the hoe or the saint, it’s much more complicated than that.”
“I want audiences to experience deep engagement, to laugh, to cry, to see themselves, to be challenged, to be inspired by their own beauty, and the complexity of our beauty. It’s about us accepting and loving ourselves,” said the playwright/performer.
Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for seniors and students with valid ID and can be purchased by calling 212-475-7710 or visiting http://www.lamama.org.
Dutchman is Gripping Theater
You only have until Feb. 24th to see the revival after 40 years of Amiri Baraka’s (aka Leroi Jones) dramatic production, Dutchman at the Cherry Lane Theatre. This production, which is brilliantly directed by Bill Duke, comes across as Baraka wrote it, as an “in your face” type of play. It has some very powerful performances by its lead actors, Dule Hill (Clay) and Jennifer Mudge (Lula). The entire production takes place on a D train ride and from the time you enter the theater, even before the play starts, you feel as if you are in a D train station as you hear the sounds of trains moving, stopping and leaving the station.

Dule Hill in Dutchman

There are also large screens that literally shows you trains coming, pulling getting off and people walking up and down the platforms. Of course, once the play starts, these screens open to reveal an old-time D train. Clay is sitting down reading a book and a white woman is standing at the station. They spot each other, she boards the train and starts coming on to him from the moment she comes into the car. What happens after that I will not share, because you have to see it to believe it. Let’s say that things between them get hot and heavy, even though other people are boarding the train, but nothing is really as it seems, which Clay brutally finds out in the end.
Baraka’s plays always grab the audience by the throat and holds on. This production is the type of thing you’ll think about for a while. You’ll try to figure out the message and why Baraka chose to write such a production. This is one playwright who always slaps you into reality, whether you want to be there or not. I’ll just say that this play definitely deals with racial hatred.
Cherry Lane Theatre is located at 38 Commerce Street. For tickets, go to www.cherrylanetheatre.org or call 212-989-2020.
AUDELCO Awards: 35 and Counting
The AUDELCO Awards, which recognizes the best in Black Theater, whether it is Black actors in a Broadway production or the work of Black playwrights, technicians, costumers, set designers, etc., will celebrate its 35th year in 2007. I know it’s early, but please add to your New Year’s Resolutions to support Black Theater and one wonderful way to do that will be to plan to go to the 35th Annual AUDELCO Awards this November.
Prior to going, make sure you come prepared. Go and see a lot of Black productions or Black actors in shows, so this way you know the outstanding performers and productions that will be up for this coveted award. The AUDELCO is Black Theater’s equivalent to the Tony Awards on Broadway, but every year the theater is barely filled. Make the 35th Anniversary one to mark the record books. Let all of us commit to come together and recognize what our own are doing. The awards that productions and talent receive are called “The VIV” after Vivian Robinson, one of the late founders of the AUDELCO Awards. The AUDELCOs were first started as a means to develop audiences who would support Black productions and Black theater. Many famous actors, have won VIV Awards and have often shared how special it was to get acknowledged by their own. One such actor was Obba Babatunde. The AUDELCO Awards are so important to our theater community, a part of our society, which should be completed and supported by us because this is where our stories are properly told.
Please support Black Theater and commit to attend the 35th Annual AUDELCO Awards in November 2007. For more information go to www.audelco.net or its e-mail address: audelco@aol.com or contact AUDELCO at 212-369-6906.

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