Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Vanport Mosaic Festival—Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center—N. Portland

Phoenix Rising

“Staged readings of two new one-act plays about the American Dream, displacement & Hurricane Katrina from the African American perspective.”  This is part of the Vanport Mosaic Festival.  The plays are “Hercules Don’t Wade in the Water” by Michael A. Jones and directed by Damaris Webb and “American Summer Squash” by Don W. Glenn and directed by Jocelyn Seid.  They are playing at the IFCC space, 5340 N. Interstate Ave., through June 4th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 971-319-0156.

I’m going to go out on a limb (as I often do) and give my own personal impressions/take/flavor of the stories.  I’m sure everyone’s aware from recent news pieces that prejudice and racism have, like an ostrich, raised its ugly head from the sand and is again creating havoc.  But my perspective is that a Cause, a People, if it is truly just, will prevail against all odds and, like the fabled Phoenix, rise from the ashes of ignorance and hate, and have its day in the sun.  No doubt, probably naïve on my part, that the forces of Light will always defeat the forces of Evil and, if you persist long enough on this Field of American Dreams, it will come to pass.  “If you build it, they will come.”

The first offering, “Hercules…,” is about two couples at crossroads in their lives.  Tupelo (La’Tevin Alexander) and Charmaine (Anya Pearson) both very hard working individuals, are barely keeping their heads above water, trying to put food on the table and pay the skyrocketing rent in their “modest” apartment in Chicago.  Their best friends, Maxine (Andrea Vernae) and Eugene (Seth Rule), are also diligent workers but have had a tragedy in their family that seems to be pulling them apart.  The sacrifice they make for honest labor is that they have no time for growing as couples.  Tupelo is eventually sent, with his friend, Youngblood (Eric Island), to New Orleans for work and they get caught up in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The second play, “…Squash,” has a family dealing with the aftermath of the storm in Texas, near the border, close to New Orleans.  The righteous, Rev. Ratcliff (Anthony P. Armstrong) is living with his son, the lazy, Slidell (Jasper Howard), in a truck, sitting on the property of their elder, Lucille (Arlena Barnes), who owns a trailer.  There is much discussion as to accepting God’s Will or railing against this fate.  Into their already turbulent lives appear the brassy, bouncy, belligerent, Sweet 16 (Damaris Webb) and her new-found friend, the young Catfish (Rickey Junior).  She is the long-time mate of Slidell and is out to just have fun.  Sparks fly when all these spicy elements are dumped into an already bubbling stew.  Can’t tell you too much about both these plays without giving away plot devices.

What these plays have in common, besides the obvious thread of the storm, is that they both involve the storms that are already brewing within these individuals and the hurricane seems to be the tipping spot in which climaxes are reached.  They are all also about flawed, but very human people that, when the cards are stacked against them, rally and will rise again.  Their “once upon a time” story might end with “…and the lived [hopefully] ever after.”

Both plays are very well written and, it is not long into them, that you forget that the cast actually has scripts in their hands.  They are so adept as actors, that the pages disappear, and they become the characters they are portraying, thanks to some excellent casting and also narration by Kenneth Dembo.  Both directors have kept the movement fluid and, although in the first play, by Jones, they are different settings over several months of time, you never get lost.  And the second play, by Glenn, has shades of the great writer, August Wilson, as a few of the characters have interesting monologues that reveal their back-stories.

I recommend these plays.  You might check their website, too, as to other events that are connecting to them.  If you do choose to see them, please tell them that Dennis sent you.

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