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Wanda’s Picks for May 15

May 15, 2009

by Wanda Sabir

Justice for Oscar Grant III

A week before BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle stood over him and shot him in the back execution style, Oscar Grant celebrated Christmas with his loving family, Sophina Mesa and their daughter, Tatiana Grant. - Photo courtesy of Law Offices of John Burris
A week before BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle stood over him and shot him in the back execution style, Oscar Grant celebrated Christmas with his loving family, Sophina Mesa and their daughter, Tatiana Grant. - Photo courtesy of Law Offices of John Burris
Johannes Mehserle’s trial begins Monday, May 18, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. A strong community presence has been requested by the Oscar Grant family and allies. Any time you can spend, 10 minutes or an hour, will be powerful and appreciated – at the Alameda County Courthouse, 12th and Oak Street, in Oakland.

Community Teach In and Speak Out

A teach in to prepare for Johannes Mehserles’ trial on May 18, sponsored by the New Years Movement for Justice, is Sunday, May 17, 1-4 p.m., at Humanist Hall, 390 27th St., Oakland, between Broadway and Telegraph.

The workshop will educate and empower our communities to wage a sophisticated legal and political campaign that turns the tragic murder of Oscar Grant into a historic opportunity – to finally put one police officer behind bars for the murder of one unarmed man. The teach-in phase on Sunday will cover specific steps the District Attorney must take in order to win the case of the People vs. Mehserle. The next phase will be the teach-out: to attend the preliminary hearing for Johannes Mehserle the next day, Monday, May 18, at the Alameda County Superior Court, 1225 Fallon St., Oakland.

If by any chance the DA drops the charges against Mehserle, be prepared to protest as well. The event is sponsored by newyearsmovement@yahoo.com.

Oscar Grant’s daughter Tatiana Au’junea Grant’s 5th birthday

Tatiana Au-junea Grant, the little girl who misses her daddy, Oscar Grant, turns 5 years old May 16. To reach the family to give gifts or just wish a Happy Birthday, send an email to wecangetitdone@gmail.com.

Sports star, musician, philanthropist Wayman Tisdale passes

wayman-tisdale
Wayman Tisdale
Former NBA player and jazz musician Wayman Tisdale passed away Friday, May 15, after a two-year battle with cancer. Tisdale died Friday morning at the age of 44 at St. John Medical Center in Tulsa, OK. Tisdale was diagnosed with bone cancer in March 2007 and had part of his right leg amputated due to the cancer in August 2008, causing him to wear a prosthetic. Living with the struggles of being an amputee first hand, Tisdale was set to launch the Wayman Tisdale Foundation as a means to help amputees cope both emotionally and financially with their new lifestyle.

WritersCorps Literary Festival

Wednesday, May 20, 6 to 7 p.m., at the San Francisco Main Public Library, Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin St., it’s a WritersCorps extravaganza as students from all over the city come together to perform in this annual celebration. Expect powerful performances, new publications by WritersCorps students, and an ice cream reception. (We might have WritersCorps teachers on the air May 20. Stay tuned.) A special screening of the film, “This Place Called Poetry,” by Katharine Gin begins at 5:30 p.m. for those who arrive early. The reading begins at 6. Reception begins at 7. For more information, call (415) 252-4655 or visit http://www.writerscorps.org.

Another WritersCorps Event

WritersCorps at Bay Area at the Nomad Café, 6500 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, Wednesday, May 27, 5 p.m., WritersCorps teachers are the featured guest readers at the Bay Area Writing Project’s monthly reading series. Mahru Elahi, Cindy Je, Aracely Gonzalez and Kim Nelson read from “Days I Moved Through Ordinary Sounds,” the new City Lights anthology featuring WritersCorps teachers.

Marcus Book Store presents Michael Eric Dyson

Michael Eric Dyson
Michael Eric Dyson
Michael Eric Dyson, Ph.D., professor of sociology, Georgetown University, and author of “Know What I Mean? Reflections on Hip-Hop” and “April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Death and How It Changed America” is speaking at East Bay Church of Religious Science, 41st and Telegraph Avenue, in Oakland. Though the Commonwealth Club event will be great as well, the preacher writer comes out at these Marcus Book Store sponsored events. Check out both events and see. The program, on Thursday, May 28, begins at 6:30 p.m. Tickets, which can be purchased at Marcus Book Store, are $10 in advance, $12 at the door, $8 for seniors and students.

Michael Eric Dyson: Can You Hear Me Now? at the Commonwealth Club of Northern California

Radio personality and regular commentator on NPR, CNN and the HBO program “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Professor Michael Eric Dyson – the man who challenged actor Bill Cosby for his attack on poor blacks – will discuss politics, the arts and the personal, sharing his thoughts on justice, poverty, faith and spirituality on Wednesday, May 27, 5:30 p.m. There’s a wine and cheese networking reception at 6 p.m. The program begins at 7 p.m. The book signing will be at the Commonwealth Club office, 595 Market St., second floor, San Francisco. Tickets are $12 for members, $18 for non-members and $7 for students with valid ID. To buy tickets, call (415) 597-6705 or register at www.commonwealthclub.org.

Dyson is widely considered a role model and patriarch in the African American community. Known for framing the debate on race, he has coined the words “Afristocracy” and “ghettocracy,” culturally prevalent terms used to describe the separation of middle-class and low-income Black Americans. Dyson is also one of the world’s leading scholars on hip-hop music, its roots in African and African-American cultures, and its influence on American popular culture.

Having grown up as a welfare recipient, he is now a professor at Georgetown University where he teaches Theology, English and African American Studies. He is the author of many books, including “Why I Love Black Women,” “The True Martin Luther King Jr.,” “Race Rules: Navigating the Color Line,” “Between God and Gangsta Rap” and “Is Bill Cosby Right?” He is also an ordained Baptist minister and holds a Ph.D. in Religion from Princeton University.

Oakland Is Speaking Poetry Event

This Sunday, May 17, 5 p.m., at Shashamane’s Ethiopian Restaurant and Lounge, 2507 Broadway, downtown Oakland, Unity Concepts will begin its first and third Sunday of the month poetry and music showcase, Oakland Is Speaking, hosted by Oakland born poet and recording artist Paradise Freejahlove Supreme. The event will feature local legend Augustus Lee Collins and his rhythm and blues band, M-Pulse, 23-year-old R&B singing sensation Terrill Williams from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and a recent winner of a statewide talent showcase, Raquel Ramsey, poet and recording artist from the JazzFunkHipHoPoetry 2 CD, and poet Jay Rich, as well as live drummers and open mic. The event is free, but donations are appreciated and will go toward building a youth training center in New Orleans. Get a taste of Ethiopia and The Town at its best in Poetopia!

The Love Tour with the Richard Howell Quintet, featuring E.W. Wainwright, Gary Brown, Frederick Harris, Destiny Muhammad

“We are all connected, so we must treat each other right,” says Richard Howell. Here’s a taste of the music his quintet makes.

The Richard Howell Quintet is a stellar all-star cast of artists featuring Richard Howell on saxophone and vocals, E.W. Wainwright on drums, Gary Brown on bass, Frederick Harris on piano and Destiny Muhammad on harp and vocals. The quintet’s theme is to demonstrate the exuberant, rich cultural heritage and definitive musical elements inherent in jazz … spontaneous creativity! The core concept explores accessible melodies, grooves and a spiritual tribute to those who came before us.

They honor the old and new traditions in the music and weave the old and new into an innovative presentation of the music. They create improvised compositions at each performance. Every performance is purposely designed to be inclusive with the audience.

The audience is an essential part of the performance.

The Richard Howell Quintet: Destiny Muhammad on harp and vocals, Howell on saxophone and vocals, Gary Brown on bass and E.W. Wainwright on drums
The Richard Howell Quintet: Destiny Muhammad on harp and vocals, Howell on saxophone and vocals, Gary Brown on bass and E.W. Wainwright on drums
The quintet is infectious and playful. Their music can create a gateway for persons to journey through time, space and dimension. Their music awakens the senses. Some of the audience responses: People feel the love and connection, people feel pride to have the ancestors represented, people feel good, happy and inspired and want more. As one observer shared, “It’s fun to watch the artists interact and be part of the creation of the music; it makes me feel good and I leave happy.” The artists fundamentally agree that we aren’t free until we all are free; see http://www.wireonfire.com/richardhowell.

First stop on the Love Tour, Sunday, May 17, 8 p.m., at Anna’s Jazz Island in Berkeley, is E.W. Wainwright’s 70th Birthday Benefit Concert for African Roots of Jazz, http://www.annasjazzisland.com.

It’s Sunday, June 7, at 3 p.m., for the 11th Annual Healdsburg Jazz Festival in Healdsburg. Richard Howell Quintet opens for James Moody http://www.healdsburgjazzfestival.org.

Nick Cave Soundsuits Collaboration; Ronald K. Brown YBCA Commission!

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) concludes its 2008-09 season with a remarkable confluence of performing and visual art in the Exhibitions gallery, fusing the movement of renowned choreographer Ronald K. Brown and the shimmering Soundsuits of visionary sculptor Nick Cave. Praised as “one of the most profound choreographers of his generation,” Brown and Evidence dancer Arcell Cabuag blend African, modern, ballet and social dance styles to tell stories about the human experience.

As part of his residency at YBCA, Brown and Evidence dancer Shani Collins will collaborate with local performers to bring to life Cave’s Soundsuits – ephemeral full-body sculptures composed of recycled clothing, beads, bottle caps, toys, twigs and hair. The exhibition, which runs through July 5, represents the largest scale presentation of Cave’s career and gives audiences the unique chance to experience his Soundsuits in performance. While these groundbreaking performance “happenings” will take place only three times, numerous activities and performances are planned in conjunction with the Nick Cave exhibition.

The Nick Cave Soundsuits Collaboration with Ronald K. Brown is at 701 Mission St., San Francisco, in the YBCA Galleries. For information, call (415) 978-2787 or visit www.ybca.org. The event is free with gallery admission. Tickets are available at the door on the day of the show only. When the galleries are fully open, admission is $7 regular, $5 students, seniors and teachers; free for YBCA members. Hours are Thursday, noon to 8 p.m., and Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, 12 noon to 5 p.m. First Tuesday, admission is free, from 12 noon to 5 p.m.

Jam Session: America’s Jazz Ambassadors Embrace the World

To celebrate the opening of the Jam Session: America’s Jazz Ambassdors Embrace the World exhibit, the Jazz Heritage Center, 1320-30 Fillmore St., San Francisco, will host a special free community celebration on Sunday, May 17, 3-5 p.m., including a free performance by the Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet, from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, just named the best college jazz band in the country. KCSM’s Sonny Buxton, Luis Cancel, director of Cultural Affairs for the City of San Francisco, and more will be there. For information, visit http://www.jazzheritagecenter.org/ or contact peter@jazzheritagecenter.org or (415) 255-7745.

‘For All the Babies’ Fathers’

Last night I attended a great play at Brava Theatre Center. The play, “For All the Babies’ Fathers,” written by Molly Rhodes, directed by Jessica Heidt, was a look at the man’s right to choose to be a parent and how one couple resolves the conflict that arises from the dispute.

When one walks into the smaller theatre space, located on the second floor, maybe third, she is told to feel free to cross over to the other side, immediately setting her up for the battle about to ensue later on stage.

Choice. Pick sides. There is no neutral ground, especially when the stage director closes the open space between the two sets of seats and one is stuck in her choice. This is where a good attorney comes into the picture.

Michael Sommers’ character, Henry, has been married before, for almost 20 years, and the couple chooses not to have children. Glory – yes, what a name! – and Henry are dating and seemingly seriously involved when she gets pregnant and he doesn’t want to be a father and wants her to abort the child, a child she has been unable to conceive up to now. She, of course, refuses, and “For All the Babies” is his attempt to figure out how to get his way.

From the visit to the sperm bank where he meets a donor (actor Myers Clark), to the dreams of a male child (“boy” performed by Caleb Alexander) and his discussions with friends and his parents, who congratulate him to Henry’s chagrin, the story is a journey we find that most men take when confronted with their ability to procreate: the fear, nervousness and perhaps shame.

All the glasses filled with odd amounts of water, pitchers on pedestals, and wooden blocks, a table with a lone flower … reflect the fragility of life and choices, the irreversible nature of certain choices, like the ones Henry and Glory face. If Henry decides to sign Glory’s contract, it means he will never know his son, yet he will know he exists.

He dreams about this: He and his son play catch, Henry at first resistant and awkward with his new role, gradually developing a certain ease and comfort. I like his visit with his father and mother the best. It is here that Henry receives the kind of support he needs to make a choice – one based on empathy rather than selfishness.

In “For All the Babies,” though written by a woman, produced with an all-women crew, with the protagonist the sole alpha male, actor Michael Sommers is able to convey in his character the all too typical characteristics, some of them stereotypical of Western man: uncommunicative, controlling and vindictive when his desires are shunned. His Henry is certainly better understood if one watches him interact with the unborn child, portrayed marvelously by Caleb Alexander. It is in this literal interplay that Henry is relieved of his anxiety … enough to realize the truth he has been denying all along in his heart.

Henry’s “movement” is short lived, a funny digression when he learns that Glory has thought of everything and doesn’t need anyone, especially an unwilling accessory to her blissful condition, motherhood. I guess in the end a “true” man doesn’t just want to be a sperm donor, even if one character (at the sperm bank) says this is his calling. Perhaps Henry is just jealous of Glory and how easily he is supplanted by this invisible life within her. Maybe he wants to be needed and doesn’t see how this is possible? There are some things hinted at but not fully explored in the piece about Henry and Glory and where Henry was when they met and how good Glory was for him. The general consensus is that she was “good” for Henry and helped him when his life wasn’t going well.

I guess the least he could do is give her a child, since this is all she’d ever wanted. “For All the Babies” is also a cautionary tale: If a man doesn’t want a baby, he should take precautions to prevent such from happening, ‘cause even in the most barren wilderness, springs emerge.

The play closes Brava’s 2008-09 season and is performed Friday-Saturday, May 15-16. Visit www.brava.org or call (415) 647-2822.

Charnett Moffett Trio

I went from the play to Yoshi’s to catch the closing night of the Charnett Moffett Trio with Will Calhoun and Stephen Scott. They were awesome. What a stellar performance. Moffett’s Art of Improvisation tour featured the bassist on multiple instruments, two electric – the upright also connected to technology. The synergy between the three men, Stephen Scott on synthesizer and acoustic piano, often playing both simultaneously, was wonderful to witness. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced and I am a bass connoisseur. Bass and drums – that’s my thing.

Letting the music wash over me, the difference between the larger bass and the smaller instrument which sounded higher pitched, deeper resonances – taking me to West Africa, Spain and South Asia: kora and oud, maybe sitar – I was amazed at how Charnett, who was raining all over the stage, water dripping off his eyelashes, played and tuned his beautiful instrument at the same time. I’d hoped to have him on my radio show when he arrived in town, but there was a mix-up with management, so I didn’t have the CD and thus didn’t know many of the songs he played unannounced, but “The Story,” his piece on the acoustic bass, the instrument slender by comparison to other upright basses I’d seen, was a highlight of the evening.

Charnett began with the bow, then shifted to plucking the strings under the bridge, then used his bow to pluck the strings – the instrument amplified and on a pedal. It was intense, especially when Stephen joined in, or he might have already been in the mix before Charnett relinquished the spoon. Will taking it away percussionally often that evening, this recipe no different. The term: “too many cooks” didn’t apply here – the ensembles’ broth both tasty and sweet.

“We Pray,” title track from “The Art of Improvisation,” closed the evening; afterwards, Charnett said to a friend that he was tired. I could see how certainly, given the high energy the men put out that final show, the last on the tour. Charnett wound down with a solo rendition of the national anthem, really cool with the wawa pedal solos on the “Land of the free, and home of the brave.” Folks in the booth nearby said a quiet, well, not really quiet … “Yes, we can!”

The set ended with a solo piece on the bass. I got Charnett’s number; maybe I’ll have him on my radio show sometime soon to talk about the “art of improvisation.” Isn’t this the epitome of Black life?

Mother’s Day Weekend: ‘Bronzeville,’ ‘Crowns,’ the California African American Museum

I was in Los Angeles Mother’s Day Weekend and took in a couple of plays, “Bronzeville” at the Robey Theatre through May 17 and “Crowns” at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center through June 14, then onto the Pasadena Playhouse July 10-Aug. 23. Adapted from the book by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry and directed by Israel Hicks, “Crowns” explores the lives of the “hat queens,” six women in the South whose stories of love, loss, identity and sisterhood are woven into the hats that crown their heads and the songs that speak their truth.

Ruth Dewson of Mrs. Dewson’s Hats and jazz musician Joshua Redman with their crowns
Ruth Dewson of Mrs. Dewson’s Hats and jazz musician Joshua Redman with their crowns
Those of us in the San Francisco Bay Area were treated to the play two years ago at Theatre Works in Palo Alto and later on to a command performance remounting at the Marin’s Memorial Theatre in San Francisco. Mrs. Dewson provided all the hats for the show, and women attending the shows either strutted in in their crowns or bought a hat and strutted home. On Mother’s Day weekend, most if not all heads were strangely bare as my mother and I sat in the theatre and enjoyed the wonderful gospel songs and stories of Black women and their hats or crowns. See http://www.mrsdewsonshats.net/.

I was there especially to see Eric Reed, pianist and musical director. He is a master with vocalists and when I got the invitation from him and planned to be in Los Angeles opening weekend, he was the draw. I was certain, if this production was to challenge the Northern California production, which was tops – Eric would musically make it so. Except for one number, though, where a singer clearly got the Holy Ghost, it was okay, but C. Kelly Wright and others in the cast in the San Francisco Bay reign.

One familiar face in the LA cast, Clinton Derricks-Carroll, the lone male character titled simply Man. I also like Angela Wildflower Polk’s Yolanda, a young woman, sent “down South” to her grandmother’s to heal after her brother’s tragic murder in New York. Both were just as good as I remembered – no, I was not comparing them. I liked Mother Shaw (actress Paula Kelly), an older woman with over 200 hats and a husband whose observation, “You only have one head,” is funny. I also liked the familiar winning lines “hattitude,” “Don’t touch the hat,” the fun style wars – and hat envy. The direction was also good and the choreography lovely. The choreography was a very nice addition to the LA production.

I don’t know if I could see the play a fourth or a fifth time, but I probably could. I like the company’s decision to not have an intermission, reflecting real church services which continue until spirit decides it’s over – one just has to put up a finger and excuse herself if nature calls. Perhaps it was the absence of a participatory audience, its silence when confronted with clearly powerful moments on stage, that I missed, that kept the experience from being more palatable. I guess I was looking for a sense of community – a shared experience, both amen and ashay at those intersections between reality and fiction, when church, even in a theatre, became real. I’m glad my mother was beside me. Visit www.ebonyrepertorytheatre.org.

Earlier that morning I’d been to Imperial Beach for a ritual healing sponsored by Mother’s Day Radio and later on my mother and I went to the California African American Museum and to Magic Johnson Cinema to see “The Soloist,” starring Jamie Foxx – yes, I know it was a lot. “The Soloist” is a great film about creative genius and mental illness, homelessness, friendship and love. Ultimately it’s about letting go of preconceptions of what society calls “normal” and “abnormal” and letting people just be.

The reporter who finds the brilliant musician Jamie Foxx portrays living on the streets of Los Angeles thinks he is doing him a favor when he tries to change him – make him “normal,” that is, a person who lives indoors and behaves in socially sanctioned ways, when he hasn’t a clue what is going on in Nathaniel Ayers’ mind or what he has suffered. I love the exploration into the minds of those who are most often ignored by society: its underclass – homeless, mentally ill, poor people – and the discussions with the director of the center, which is a place where homeless people can get access to treatment if this is what they want, medical or clinical, or a safe place to hang out during the day.

Lopez, the LA Times reporter (actor Robert Downey Jr.) faces mental anguish and turmoil in his own life he externalizes and projects onto Nathaniel, whose life, as he has made it, is relatively peaceful, happy and free, free from the voices and presence of disturbing entities. JUMP Theatre here in the San Francisco Bay Area is the only theatre I know which produces work with themes about mental illness. This topic still taboo in most circles, yet depression and anxiety, two forms of mental illness, probably affect more than half this country’s population. This is why “The Soloist” is such an important story and film. Visit http://www.jumptheatre.org/about.html. Jamie Foxx speaks about how the film affected him in an interview prior to the film’s opening; see http://www.uwire.com/Article.aspx?id=4050188.

You see where the running comes from. It’s in the family. When I was sitting in the airport, my mother was sharing a listing of things to do, and then our newspaper flew out the window and we weren’t able to get to everything – like the Black documentary festival Saturday, May 9, with Cornel West and Tavis Smiley.

The African American Museum was really lovely, especially the exhibit “Of Tulips and Shadows: The Visual Metaphors of Dewey Crumpler,” through Sunday, May 17, Gallery II. I am so happy I was able to see this exhibit. I had to return again the following day and watch the interview twice. Imagine the tulip as a metaphor for the black body, black imagination, a symbol of the Black experience. Paintings, collage, mixed media and studies, large sculptures taking up an entire gallery space greeted one in this exhibition.

“Inside My Head: Intuitive Artists of African Descent” opened. Once again, it was the personal that took me to the museum. Malik Seneferu and his wife, Karen Seneferu née Carraway, were the reason I had to make it to CAAM. I’d forgotten Dewey’s show, even though he’d told me about it last year in an interview. It opened last October and was extended, lucky for me. But besides Malik’s paintings and Karen’s installation, I met other artists’ work whom I knew like Tracey Brown, Chukes, Bridgette Montgomery and Patricia Boyd.

I also hadn’t known about photographer Howard Bingham’s “A Moment in Time: Bingham’s Black Panthers, through June 7.” That was a fun walk through memory lane. I loved the plates and statements posted under the larger photos of prominent BPP leaders. Different focus from the outstanding exhibit at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts a few years ago, “Black Panther Party Rank and File,” this exhibit is still outstanding and, given the recent death of another great Panther photographer, Pirkle Jones, more poignant.

That Sunday after a great breakfast of biscuits and grits, my nephews and I returned. It was typical LA weather – hot, so the kids were happy to be inside at an art workshop, “To Honor Our Ancestors,” with artist Cola, whose altar in the “Inside My Head” exhibit was striking in its complexity. We’ll have to have her on the air to talk about her work. Twice a month there are free art workshops on either a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Supplies were provided. Visit www.caamueum.org.

Another exhibit I enjoyed was Elizabeth Colomba’s oil paintings. I didn’t get to “The African American Journey West” or notice the “Contemporary Women Artists” in the courtyard. There were all these globes with artist interpretations of “hot ideas for a cooler planet,” which took all my attention. Visit www.coolglobes.org. There were smaller globes in display cases in the CAAM. The globes reminded me of the Hearts in San Francisco project where there were huge hearts throughout the city decorated by different artists. Some are now a part of the permanent landscape.

I left the kids at the museum with my mother after she dropped me off at Robey Theatre to see if I could get in to see “Bronzeville,” a story similar to “After the War,” set in the Fillmore of the influx of African American families into former Japanese neighborhoods during World War II. In LA the place was called “Bronzeville.” There were such places in Chicago and also San Francisco. Temporary, what happened when the Japanese returned home? What happened when Japanese refused to fight or turn themselves in – like Henry, one of the protagonists in “Bronzeville,” and is discovered by the new inhabitants?

The Robey Theatre Company, www.robeytheatrecompany.com, named for Paul Robeson, was founded in December 1994 by Danny Glover and Bennet Guillory to fill a void of opportunity for Black theatre artists. – Photo: Wanda Sabir
The Robey Theatre Company, www.robeytheatrecompany.com, named for Paul Robeson, was founded in December 1994 by Danny Glover and Bennet Guillory to fill a void of opportunity for Black theatre artists. – Photo: Wanda Sabir
As I waited in line to put my name on a waiting list in the theatre lobby, a huge open space where terraces overlook a large main floor leading into several theatres, the space reminded me of the Public in New York, the potential of a Marin’s Memorial Theatre or perhaps a closer prototype in the space where the SF Playhouse resides, which houses many theatres. We don’t have a space in the SF Bay where 10 theatres share one building. The theatres range in size from 90 to perhaps 150 seats, some with permanent seats, the others with folding chairs and stools like Robey.

Amazing Grace Conservatory and Wendy Raquel Robinson’s “Sarafina” was also being produced at the LA Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., but I wasn’t able to see it this time. I remember seeing “Sarafina” in San Francisco a long time ago – it might have been during the anti-apartheid era. It closes this weekend too, May 16-17. Visit www.AmazingGraceConservatory.com. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door.

Next to “Crowns,” there was no comparison, so I guess I shouldn’t compare “Crowns” and “Bronzeville.” They both had their merits and as two very different theatre experiences it’s a matter of taste, what one prefers. Such a long preamble means this writer’s preference (smile).

Wanda is greeted by Ben Guillory, Robey Theatre Company co-founder and artistic director.
Wanda is greeted by Ben Guillory, Robey Theatre Company co-founder and artistic director.
So I am standing in line and this woman asks me if I need a ticket. I tell her yes and she gives me a ticket she got for her husband and tells me Happy Mother’s Day. I am elated and call my mother. When I walk into the theatre and tell Artistic Director Ben Guillory my good news, he looks at me – we’ve never met – like he can’t believe it, but I am standing there inside so it must be true. I take my seat and watch him hug patrons and then close the curtains after a few announcements. The lights go down and up on the stage in a far corner Henry tells a family friend of his plans to stay home and not leave with the rest of his family – his dad was already gone, rounded up with other intellectuals by the FBI.

From the arrival of the Goodwin family and their settling into the Takara family home: Mama Janie (CeCe Antoinette), the rebel musician, and younger brother Felix (Larry Powell), the stable yet worried older brother and family man, Jodie (Dwain A. Perry), his wife, Alice (Adenrele Ojo) and their daughter, Princess (Candice Afia), and their meeting with Henry Tahara (Jeff Manabat), the play transports me to another place and time.

I could have listened all day to Mama Janie tell liberation stories from days pre- and post-slavery. At 90 the woman was sharp and able to see and connect the Japanese internment experience, Henry’s refusal to participate in the violation of his constitutional rights, especially the 14th Amendment, as his fight for freedom, something the Goodwins, post-slavery, were obligated to support. She immediately wants to make Henry feel comfortable, and after feeding him enough so he can tell his story, she sends him upstairs to wash up and tells him he is safe. The matriarch of the family, she is used to having her way, but her son Jodie struggles with this value – freedom – and how his family’s freedom is at stake if they knowingly break the law, something the newly arrived family from the Jim Crow South is not used to.

But what is the law – man’s law versus natural law? The question is not posed directly but “Bronzeville” tackles the notion of rights and laws. How can the Goodwins occupy a home owned by someone else? Where is the money they are paying going? Who gave the temporary owners the right to rent the Tahara’s property? It reminds me of what happened in 1948 to the Palestinians; the only problem is 51 years later, they have not been able to return. Internment in Gaza seems like a globally sanctioned permanent removal.

Jodie holds onto freedom so tightly he almost strangles it to death and loses it.

The use of multiple spaces, both breadth and depth, plus utility of different levels – sets stacked and opening onto the foreground, spilling into the audience – give the script space to breathe and characters enough physical area to think and move – claustrophobia amazingly avoided. The archival prints of Japanese interned and soldiers at war add another dimension to the work which is based on a story Tim Toyama learned about a relative who was sheltered by a Black family during the war.

At the center of the fictional story is how freedom is not the exclusive property of any one nation or people; it is a human right. Yet, in the midst of Jodie’s discomfort with Henry’s presence in “his house” (Henry’s and the Goodwins’), the philosophical differences between the brothers, Jodie and Felix, is Felix’s belief that the America Jodie loves does not return the affection. His America doesn’t love the Black man any more than it loves the Japanese, so he readily supports Henry in his defection.

Felix is an artist, plays the saxophone, and through him the family is exposed to another world – one where Jodie learns how fluid and unpredictable this “freedom” he cherishes is – yet he betrays his family. This is seen as an act of love, an act of a free man, when actually it is the act of a scared man, the act of a slave, even though it is Mama Janie, not he, who experienced the shackles. Mental slavery lingers on generations afterwards in Jodie, bypassing Felix, Alice and Princess.

“Bronzeville” combines youthful optimism with historic certainty. There is also a level of forgiveness when the two different cultures, which are not very different ideologically, meet in sorrow and celebration of Henry’s life.

Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir talks with filmmaker S. Pearl Sharp and artist Riua Akinshegun during the “Bronzeville” intermission.
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir talks with filmmaker S. Pearl Sharp and artist Riua Akinshegun during the “Bronzeville” intermission.
During intermission I had a chance to speak to director S. Pearl Sharp and artist Riua Akinshegun. Riua is featured in Sharp’s “Healing Passage,” a film that explores the use of art to heal the residual effects of slavery. I am a great fan of both women and have admired Riua from a far for years, so it was a treat to finally meet her at “Bronzeville.”

Having seen Philip Kan Gotanda’s “After the War” at ACT here in San Francisco, it was nice to see “Bronzeville,” a continuation thematically of the same story, just set in another place. The cast was outstanding and the score, set and, of course, Ben Guillory’s direction, as well as the writing, co-written by two playwrights, Tim Toyama and Aaron Woolfolk, were equally marvelous.

It was great having the playwright, Tim Toyama, and the music of Dave Iwataki on my radio show Wednesday, May 13. Visit http://www.wandaspicks.asmnetwork.org. A cool coincidence was Tim’s mention of Yuri Kochiyama, his relative. Yuri, who lives here, is one of my heroes. Her birthday is coming up this coming Tuesday, May 19, also Malcolm X’s birthday. Danny Glover, co-founder of the Robey Theatre, was in the first production of Philip Gotanda’s “Yohen.” I had Philip on my radio show with Anthony Brown, who did the music for “After the War,” talking about “Yohen” and the February 2009 Japanese and English staged reading at the Durham Studio Theatre at UC Berkeley Playhouse. See http://www.dailycal.org/article/104134/language_of_love.

Mother’s Day Radio: Women in White

During Women in White Weekend, Mother's Day Radio Project founder Shaunelle Curry and collaborators Kelley Nicole, Jimetta Rose and more presented an evening of uplifting music and poetry. – Photo: Wanda Sabir
During Women in White Weekend, Mother's Day Radio Project founder Shaunelle Curry and collaborators Kelley Nicole, Jimetta Rose and more presented an evening of uplifting music and poetry. – Photo: Wanda Sabir
After the play, my mother picked me up and took me to Santa Monica, dinner to go, smothered turkey wings with dressing and greens; it was yummy. There at the former Temple Bar, on Wilshire, Dakota Live Music Lounge, next door to a vegan restaurant, was the final Mother’s Day Radio weekend program, an evening of uplifting music and poetry by a women headed band. It was powerful. I had Shaunelle Curry, organizer, and two of the performers, Kelly Nicole and Jimetta Rose, on the air May 13. They rocked the radio show out. Visit http://www.wandaspicks.asmnetwork.org. Check out my blog for pictures of the Women in White Weekend, plus other photos I am just posting … better later than not at all.

Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at wsab1@aol.com. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com for an expanded version of Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 6-7 a.m. and Fridays at 8-10 a.m. and archived on the Afrikan Sistahs’ Media Network, http://www.WandasPicks.ASMNetwork.org.

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One thought on “Wanda’s Picks for May 15

  1. Judith Bowman

    Hi Wanda,

    What a great blog. Nice coverage re “Bronzeville” & also I love your from-the-balcony picture of the Lobby at The New LATC. Can we use the picture on the Robey website and perhaps in our newsletter with appropriate credit to you/the photographer?

    Hope you’ll come back for “The River Niger” it will open Nov 13 and close Dec 20, 2009.

    Cheers!

    Judy Bowman
    Development Director for Robey

    Reply

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