by Wanda Sabir
As September rolled into October, just two months short of a new solar year, a woman was executed in Virginia, the first execution of a woman in that state since 1912, the first execution of a woman in this country in five years.
I hadn’t realized Virginia was second only to Texas in the number of people it executes. The United States Supreme Court reinstituted the death penalty in 1976, and of those killed so far, only 11 have been women.
Teresa Lewis was convicted of planning a double murder in October 2005 and was executed Sept. 24, 2010. She was 41. What a fast turnaround, almost like an anniversary party for Lewis, who was mentally retarded. Why this country allows a state to execute people who are clearly incapable of understanding the punishment is beyond me.
Right here at home, Albert Greenwood Brown, 56, scheduled for execution Tuesday, Sept. 28, then Thursday, Sept. 30, was told to choose his poison – two shot lethal injection or three before one of the meds expired. It seems California is out of the lethal poisons and since the court would not cooperate and push the appeals through without due process, Brown will not be executed before next year, nor will the other inmates on death row … Kevin Cooper’s name third on the list that included Brown. The same Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who inducted a former convicted felon, musician Merle Haggard, into the Hall of Fame this summer, refused to consider clemency for Brown. Brown would have been the fifth person executed since the state lifted the ban on capital punishment.
Justice just keeps rolling along past us…. Just think, Beatrice Smith-Dyer is free, but again, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger can reverse the court’s decision. Ms. Smith-Dyer spent 17 years at the Central California Women’s Facility for the death of her abusive husband. While in prison Ms. Smith-Dyer has acted responsibly and with humility and was released on bail with an impeccable disciplinary record, no write-ups in the entire 17 years. She took advantage of every self-help program available to her and has full insight into her past actions.
The victim’s family has forgiven her and written letters of support over the years asking for her release. She has no other criminal record or history of violence other than the death of her husband and expresses deep remorse for taking his life. She was a volunteer in the hospice program and also a peer educator and mentor and advisor to many women at CCWF. She utilized her time in prison to develop personal and professional skills – among them, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous – to help others overcome their addictions. She was active in the Women’s Advisory Council and completed programs in paralegal studies, office service studies and machine transcription. Since she has been out, she has committed herself to supporting the work of the organizations that supported her all the years she was inside: California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), Free Battered Women (FBW), All of Us or None and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPWC).
I remember meeting this legendary woman a couple of years ago. Her work had preceded her, so when I heard she was to be released it was disheartening to learn it was conditional and that the governor could try to find a reason to ignore the Board of Parole Hearings recommendation. Still it was great seeing her outside – free at LSPWC Wednesday, Sept. 29, for a planning meeting for a statewide meeting of CCWP and FBW in Southern California Oct. 8-10. She can’t attend because of conditions of parole, but she was there – all of us in varying states of awe.
That’s one thing about this work with women who value their mobility – seriously hug trees and talk to oceans. No, they are not crazy, they just have their priorities straight – lots of laughter heals the soul and the work is continuous ‘cause “none of us is free while some of us are in chains.” I think about Sister Bea and then I reflect on the youth Tedi Snyder, who was just sentenced to 22 years in Los Angeles. The system is slippery on a good day, and those are so seldom it is certainly cause to celebrate as the state looks at “lifetime parole” and other measures to keep people locked up and locked down.
Harriett Tubman left serious tracks for us to step into – prison abolition one of the highest vocations around. So pull out your pens and fire off a letter to the governor in support of Sister Beatrice, who is free at last, thank God Almighty (smile). Visit http://www.womenprisoners.org/.
Letters of support can be sent to Gov. Schwarzenegger, Attn: Andrea Hoch, Legal Affairs Secretary, State Capitol Bldg., Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 445-2841, fax (916) 558-3160. Don’t forget to sign the letter and include your address and signature.
‘The Brothers Size’ at the Magic Theatre
A great play … “The Brothers Size,” the second in a series of three plays called “The Brother/Sister Plays,” Tarell Alvin McCraney’s work is a must see for families and youth. While not a child’s story, it is certainly a trek or path or a choice we need to address as more and more youth grow up without parents – the idea of freedom as remote as behavior which keeps us trapped, imprisoned … enslaved, the opposite of free.
After the uninterrupted 90 minutes ended, I couldn’t move … not even for an ovation.
I knew what to expect. I’d read the play a week prior, but I have come to know how what’s on the page is merely a glimpse into the life theatre breathes into a script – the water without oxygen – it was like that and more. I could barely compose myself to speak to Joshua whose “Ogun Size” was everything a brother would want in a brother and everything his name implies: Ogun – strength, stability, steadfastness. It was great seeing the play with a Priestess of Oya; the ride back from Ft. Mason Center in San Francisco on the Bay, where the Magic Theatre is housed – enlightening. What was most enlightening however was seeing three Black men on stage telling stories about captivity and escape, healing and survival, trust and love.
The story of Ogun and his kid brother in a town where the only policeman – a Black man – sits waiting for young and old Black men to make a mistake, so he can lock them up. Reminds one of the slave catchers, or patrolers, lying in wait along dark dusty lonely roads.
When the play opens, one hears drums and sees Ogun’s brother’s still form. Asleep, he grumbles when he is awakened. Since he’s been released, Oshoosi has trouble sleeping at night. Unemployed and on parole, all he can think about is cars and girls and sex – in that order. His buddy from prison, Elegba, is the man to make it happen.
Themes like justice and freedom traverse the tenuous horizon where Brothers Size meet once again as Oshoosi’s nightmares awaken him or keep him awake. Ogun, stuck in similar twilight landscapes, realizes it is a place where what is impossible is possible – escape is a real possibility – the shovel used to dig the underground railroad against a wall in Ogun’s garage.
There is so much between these two men – the affection and understanding and care and the synergy between Joshua Elijah Reese’s Ogun and Tobie Windham’s Oshoosi a tangible entity which is wonderful to witness on stage. Alex Ubokudom’s Elegba is outside the circle, eclipsing Oshoosi only when memories of prison return unbidden and unwelcome.
Elegba is the memory after the decay is gone along with the cavity – one slides his tongue around inside out of habit.
What did Oshoosi do to survive inside the prison? What was his and Elegba’s relationship? Can a relationship begun in prison sustain itself once the bars are removed? What happens when freedom erases the invisible lines drawn in the sand?
In some ways, Elegba reminds me of Morgan Freeman’s character in “The Shawshank Redemption.” In the film Freeman’s character tries to kill himself – captivity is something he knows, not freedom. Does Elegba try to commit a crime to go back to prison – something he knows – or is he just making bad choices? Are his actions deliberate or unintentional?
I last saw Tobie Windham in California Shakespeare Company’s “Pastures of Heaven,” which he performed an excerpt of at Quentin Easter’s memorial. I last saw Alex Ubokudom in the Stanford production this summer of “Wanderings of Odysseus,” where he played Achilles and Odysseus, alongside L. Peter Callender. I see why he’d want to be in the house opening night at Brava and African American Shakespeare’s production of the U.S. premiere of “IPH….” “IPH” is the back story and many of the key characters show up, like Achilles, who lost his wife before she was his own.
After seeing the “Wanderings” this summer, getting the back story is pretty cool stuff. Now I know why Odysseus wasn’t trying to get home too soon to Klytaimnestra.
I don’t know if Peter Callender, artistic director for African American Shakespeare Company, planned it this way or the gods, but everything seems lined up as if the oracles predicted it – Callender’s such a regal emissary (smile).
“The Brothers Size” is up through Oct. 17 at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco, Bldg. D, Ft. Mason Center. There is a free performance scheduled at Laney College, 900 Fallon St. in Oakland, for Saturday, Oct. 9, in the afternoon, perhaps about 1-2? Call (415) 441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org.
On the fly
Freedom Archives San Francisco premiere of “COINTELPRO 101,” Sunday, Oct. 10, 4 and 7 p.m., at the Mission Cultural Center of Latino Arts, 2868 Mission St., in San Francisco. Suggested donation is $10, youth $5. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Soffiya Elijah will moderate a discussion. Visit www.freedomarchives.org. Liberian Schools Benefit at La Peña Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck Ave., in Berkeley, 9 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 9, presents “Celebration of African Musicians, Dancers, Drummers and Singers,” featuring live music by Sia Ama, Ousseynou Kouyate, Mohammed Kouyate, Karamba Dioubate, Faly Seydi, Karano Susso and many more. Call (510) 841-3800. Also at La Peña, Sunday, Oct. 24, Ase Theatre Collective has its West Coast release of a video directed by Adia T. Whitaker, 4 p.m., $10-$20 sliding scale. Jaranon y Bochinche perform Afro-Peruvian music and dance from the central region of Peru, Friday, Oct. 15. Visit www.lapena.org. Mill Valley Film Festival, Oct. 7-17, http://2010.mvff.com/.
Alonzo King LINES Contemporary Ballet presents “Scheherazade” with music performed by Zakir Hussain Oct. 14-24 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Novellus Theater, (415) 978-2787, www.linesballet.org. San Francisco Jazz Festival is Sept. 14-Nov. 20, www.SFJAZZ.org. “The American Scene: New Deal Art 1935-1943” is at the Bedford Gallery at the Lesher Center for the Arts, Oct. 3-Dec. 19, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, www.bedfordgallery.org. If you missed Gee’s Bend Quilts at the de Young, in the Annex Gallery at the Bedford are Artist’s Prints from Paulon Press. Lorraine Hansberry Theatre Celebrates 30 Years, Oct. 16, at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in Union Square in San Francisco. Subscribers get to see “Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet,” “The Brother/Sister Plays Part 3” at ACT at Geary Theatre, 415 Geary St., San Francisco, www.act-sf.org.
The 12th Annual “Black Nativity” production at the Southside Theatre in Ft. Mason Center is Dec. 10-31. A Lynn Nottage work, “Fabulation or The Re-Education of Undine,” is March 3-27, 2011, directed by Ellen Sebastian Chang, featuring Margo Hall at the Southside Theatre in Ft. Mason Center; “Ruined,” another Lynn Nottage play, is Feb. 25-April 10 at Berkeley Rep at the Roda Theatre, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley. LHT subscribers will see “Ruined,” directed by Liesl Tommy, as a part of the season. Visit www.lhtsf.org/season.html or www.calperformances.org. “Ralph Lemon: How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere?” at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, Thursday, Oct. 7 – Saturday, Oct 9, 8 p.m., Novellus Theater, www.ybca.org/tickets/production/view.aspx?id=11420.
Seventh Annual SF Trolley Dances
Kim Epifano’s Epiphany Productions presents the Seventh Annual SF Trolley Dances Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 16 and 17. Tours leave from the Harvey Milk Center for Recreational Arts at Duboce Park, Scott Street and Duboce Avenue, San Francisco. Tours travel park to park on the N Judah Muni-Metro from Duboce Park to the SF Botanical Garden at Golden Gate Park, with 1.5-2 hour guided tours leaving every 45 minutes between 11:00 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. Free with a Muni fast pass or with regular fare: $2.00 for general fare or $.75 for children under 4, seniors and persons with disabilities. Performances by Epiphany Productions SDT , Joe Goode Performance Group, Sara Shelton Mann, Ensohza Minyoshu, Christine Bonansea 2×3 Project, Sunset Chinese Folk Dance Group.
‘Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and Its Diasporas’
This is the first major American exhibition to present a comprehensive examination of the dynamic visual arts associated with water spirits. Over 200 works present a compelling range of art forms that portray the water deity widely known as Mami Wata (pidgin English for Mother Water or Water Mistress. The exhibition highlights both traditional and contemporary images of Mami Wata and her consorts from across the African continent as well as from the Caribbean, Brazil, and the United States. It offers a rich variety of media including magnificent masks, kinetic sculptures, vibrant paintings, and inspired shrine recreations. Visit http://museum.stanford.edu/calendar/. One-hour tours are ongoing every Saturday and Sunday through Jan. 2, 2011, 2 p.m.
‘Vodoun/Vodounon: Portraits of Initiate’ opens Oct. 13
This exhibition presents compelling diptychs by the Belgian photographer Jean Dominique Burton, who sensitively portrays Vodoun practitioners in Benin and their sacred shrines. The images provide an exceptional glimpse into the esoteric domain of this traditional Fon religion, which is now variously called Vodou, Vodun, Vaudou or Vaudoux and practiced throughout West Africa and the African Diaspora. Burton combines black and white with color photographs to reveal a fascinating blend of his subjects’ personal charisma and the union of sculpture, painting and installation art in the interpretation of creation laws that visibly manifest themselves in spirits of plants, animals, humans and ancestors. It’s at Stanford University’s Cantor Arts Center, just off Palm Drive, at Museum Way and Lomita Drive, Palo Alto. Visit http://events.stanford.edu/events/200/20079/.
Ceremonial Blessing: ‘Kalfou Legba Atibon’
The public is invited to participate in a traditional Haitian ceremonial blessing of the exhibition “Vodoun/Vodounon: Portraits of Initiates.” Florencia Pierre, an accomplished performer, respected healer and Mambo or priestess of the Vodou religion of Haiti, leads the ceremony, which includes dancing, drumming and chanting to evoke the presence and powers of the Haitian Vodou spirit Papa Legba. Participants are encouraged to wear comfortable white clothing and connect to the ground barefoot in this high-energy celebration. Wednesday, Oct. 13, 5 p.m., for half an hour at the Andy Goldsworthy sculpture, “Stone River,” in front of the Cantor Arts Center, just off Palm Drive, at Museum Way and Lomita Drive, Palo Alto.
Sunday Tour: Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden
Created on-site at Stanford by artists from Papua New Guinea, the garden contains wood and stone carvings of people, animals and magical beings that illustrate clan stories and creation myths. Tours are on the Third Sunday of the month at 2 p.m., rain or shine. Check with the Cantor Arts Center for tours held on holidays. Meet at the corner of the Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden, at Santa Teresa and Lomita Drive, Palo Alto, this month on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2 p.m., and/or Sunday, Nov. 21, 2 p.m.
Lecture: ‘Sacred Waters: Arts for Mami Wata and Other Divinities in Africa/Diaspora’
Sacred waters bathe the histories of African peoples, sometimes as tears of deep sorrow, sometimes as drops of soothing and cooling liquid sustaining life and hope. Water connects world with otherworld, life with afterlife. For Africans dispersed across vast oceans, those waters are emblematic of the ultimate journey back home to distant ancestors and the abode of Mami Wata, Simbi, Olokun, Yemoja, La Sirene, Watramama, Maman d’Eau, RiverMaids and countless other divinities. Their names are regularly invoked to maintain, refresh and strengthen the spirit needed to endure the hardships and challenges of lives scattered and shattered by the avarice, arrogance and brutality of those who would enslave others for their own benefit.
Film and Discussion: ‘Legacy of the Spirits’
This documentary follows the path of one of the world’s most misunderstood religions, Vodou, across the waters from West Africa to New York City (1985, 52 minutes). It is presented in conjunction with the exhibition “Vodoun/Vodounon: Portraits of Initiates.” Visit http://events.stanford.edu/events/245/24525/.
The Eighth Annual Family Flashlight Tour: Water Spirits Illuminated
Explore a host of water spirits including mermaids, fish, snakes, and other water creatures in the darkened Cantor Arts Center galleries. Using flashlights, we will navigate through our many galleries in search of the world’s well-known water spirits. Participants will also enjoy hands-on art activities and refreshments. Because we are dimming the gallery lights for this special event, backpacks and strollers will not be allowed on the tours. Visit http://events.stanford.edu/events/248/24847/.
Brava Theatre and African American Shakespeare Company present U.S. premiere of ‘IPH…’
Agamemnon writhes on his stark cellar floor, gripped by a nightmare he must adhere to – kill his daughter to appease the gods. And what a lovely daughter she is – and what a loving relationship he has with his daughter who sees how troubled he is and wishes away Troy and war and the battles men wage which make no one happy.
As Agamemnon wages war within himself – his wife and the brother whose wife ran away with an enemy – the famous “Helen of Troy,” whose honor Greece takes on in a war, even after her husband, Agamemnon’s brother, Menelaus, tells him no, spare his daughter.
I love C. Kelly Wright’s “Klytaimnestra.” What a wonderful mother she portrays, especially in her grief – her agony is all too real – Agamemnon a serial child killer; Iphigenia is not the first he has slaughtered. This tragedy follows such joy, mother and daughter singing, happily anticipating Klytaimnestra’s marriage to Achilles, a dashing warrior god.
Traci Tolmaire’s lovely “Iphigenia” resigns herself to her father’s wishes like the good daughter she is. Her decision reminds me of the bull who agreed to his sacrifice at the ritual I attended in Rufisque, Senegal. He ceased struggling and decided to surrender to his fate. But the girl is not meat. No one benefits from her slaughter. Her flesh doesn’t feed the hungry, just a bloodthirsty god. I felt like weeping with her mom.
The chorus keeps the story moving and the audience filled in on the latest dirt as the four women salivate over Achilles, Iphigenia’s intended finance. The backdrop is a multimedia collage on screen that brings the war all too close to home – images, a mix of Agamemnon’s agony, his face juxtaposed with that of his child – wars past and present, here and at home.
Agamemnon sacrifices more than a child. He loses his peace even after the war is won.
Ninety minutes without intermission – I think one would have to see the play more than once or at least read the script to fully appreciate Colin Teevan’s translation and adaptation, his lovely writing, as well as the script’s subtle nuances which are both old and new. Callender says in the program that he sat with the play for a few years. Just go see it twice; it won’t be up in 2013 unless AASC and Brava bring it back (smile).
The use of cameras for real time video capture and simultaneous streaming which projected characters and scenes on the larger screen above … again … is so African American Shakespeare and Brava Theatre – both companies known for their contemporary staging of the classics and the mixing of genres. I hope this collaboration is just one of many others to come between the two theatres.
Callender has started his tenure as artistic director of the African American Shakespeare Company with a bang – the fireworks and confetti still falling. Don’t miss the start of his virgin season. “IPH…” is up through Oct. 16 at Brava Theater, 2781 24th St., San Francisco, (415) 647-2822 and www.brava.org.
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 6-7:30 or 8 a.m. and Fridays at 8-10 a.m., can be heard by phone at (347) 237-4610 and are archived on the Afrikan Sistahs’ Media Network.