by Wanda Sabir
Angola 3 alert
Angola 3 hotline: (504) 301-9292. Albert Woodfox’s case has for all intents and purposes been thrown out, but he has yet to be released. There is a hearing in New Orleans Wednesday, Nov. 12. Write letters to the editor of the Baton Rouge Advocate. Listen to an interview with Robert King, Geronimo ji jaga and Panther Herb about Albert’s case at www.wandaspicks.asmnetwork.org, the Nov. 7, 8-8:30 segment.
The darker brother
I think I’m still in shock. Imagine, 200 years after chattel slavery was legally abolished in the United States, we have a Black man elected to this nation’s highest office: Barack Hussein Obama, president elect, this nation’s 44th president as of Jan. 20, 2009. I can hear the numerologist tabulations ticking. Hmm, what does it mean?
What it means is that little Black boys and girls can do anything they want to do. When discouraged and ignored or told they aren’t good enough for this or not good enough for that or a position is out of their reach, they can just look to the White House and see the first family and be inspired, because Black leadership of the world’s greatest and most powerful nation rests in the hands of what Langston Hughes called “the darker brother.” Finally, after hoping for an invitation to sit at the table and eat with the family, the darker brother is at its head and in control of the evening’s guest list.
There will be no party crashers allowed, and what’s good about this meal is that it’s a banquet all are welcome to. I think I will be smiling for four years and then four more. I can’t imagine anything greater than this for our nation and for the world nation. I am looking forward to more organizing with greater yields. I am looking to this nation healing from racism and the residual effects of enslavement on the white minority and a frank discussion about privilege and how we can really even the playing field and guarantee equality, justice and freedom for everyone, not just a few folks in the right place or with incomes with the requisite digits.
Wanda’s Picks Radio Nov. 7
On Nov. 7 we were joined by Robert H. King, www.Angola3.org, author of a recent autobiography, “From the Bottom of the Heap”; Parnell Herbert, known as “Panther Herb,” deputy minister of justice, Millions More Movement, Houston, www.mmmhouston.net/loc/, Coalition for Justice, (210) 732-8957, www.coalitionforjustice.net; and Geronimo ji jaga, former political prisoner and international human rights activist, Kuji Foundation, www.kujifoundation.org. They will be speaking about the case of Albert Woodfox, found innocent on Oct. 8 of all charges leveled at him over 30 years ago by the Louisiana judiciary, yet he has not been released.
The international connection between revolutionary movements and the subjugation, silencing and murder of African people worldwide in prisons is made by world traveler, scholar and historian Dr. Runoko Rashidi, who joins us briefly as he gets ready to journey to Rio de Janeiro for a conference next week.
The next guest is Sean San Jose, theatre director at Intersection for the Arts, the oldest alternative arts space in San Francisco, which is now staging Dan Wolf’s adaptation of “Angry Black White Boy,” from Adam Mansbach’s novel by the same title. It’s up Thursday-Sundays, 8 p.m., through Nov. 16. Visit www.theintersection.org.
The show concludes with a conversation with friends and family about Obama 2008. We are joined by Mrs. Dolores Dixon aka Mama Kyaé, her daughter Karen Oyekanmi, granddaughter Sara Marie Prada, www.fallinlovephotography.com, arts activist and womanist Sia Amma of Global Women Intact, who is hosting an African Drum and Dance Conference, which began Wednesday, Nov. 5, and continues through Sunday, Nov. 9.
Artist “Boundless Gratitude” closes out the show with a performance of a lovely song he wrote in October. It’s kind of hard to hear, so listeners are encouraged to visit http://boundlessgratitude.com/ for a free download.
Wednesday, Nov. 12, we’ll continue our conversation on Albert Woodfox’s case and then Friday, Nov. 14, we’ll hear the results of the Nov. 12 hearing. Send letters to newspapers like the Baton Rouge Advocate, www.theadvocate.com, and the Times Picayune, www.timespicayune.com, rejecting the judicial malaise in this brother’s case and that of Herman Wallace also. It is time they were released. It’s urgent. The state has no case!
You can also write letters of encouragement and support to Albert and Herman at this time when judicial malaise and attention to procedural guidelines are slowing the process and continuing the torture these men have been subject to. If we add Robert King’s time incarcerated, 31 years, 29 years in solitary confinement, to Woodfox and Wallace’s 31 in solitary, 35-plus years, it is over 100 years collectively. This is cruel and not unusual punishment, if one asks any Black man in America. However, the fact that it is typical is definite cause for its abolishment.
I was saddened to hear of the death of a great man, Benjamin Ahmed, of Little Nairobi, California (a.k.a. East Palo Alto). I saw him last at a Kwanzaa event hosted by the Bay Area Kwanzaa Committee. It was lovely seeing him and we promised to stay in touch and we will, just not as planned. I went to high school with his daughters – all of us members of the Nation of Islam years ago.
He will be missed.
He was on I-880 in Hayward when a car swerved into him causing his vehicle to flip and throw him into the road. I hadn’t known of his community service or his academic background prior to reading the news reports. I was on the same road just a couple of hours later headed to San Jose to catch Climbing Poetree. I’d missed all the Bay Area performances and didn’t want to miss the show. The art space was really nice and the show was magnificent! I wish I could have seen it a few times. I’m glad they are making it into a film and thinking about publishing the work. The writing was fantastic. The way Alixa and Naima connected all the dots between Hurricane Katrina and the war in Iraq, to the homeless people along Market in San Francisco and under the overpasses in Emeryville, and the drowned hopes in Haiti.
I am carrying water around in a vial still to commemorate the experience. Imagine, I was pouring libations for my brother Benjamin who was on his ascension. The multimedia performance featured music and dance – the two women so connected spiritually to one another, their voices in two bodies one.
Between the first act, the problem statement and the resolution – or the last piece – there was an opportunity for community partners located in the San Jose area to share what they were doing to heal the planet and help change the world for the better.
It was a lovely experience I hope those along the hurricane season route can partake in. They will be in Los Angeles this week, New Orleans and Houston. Check out their website, www.climbingpoetree.com, and www.hurricaneseason.com (or org).
Benjamin Ahmad received a Wildflower Fellowship for his service (www.wildflowers.org/fellows/Ahmad.shtml):
“Benjamin Ahmad was employed at an oil company in San Francisco when he found his life work. Immersed in a culture that defined itself in terms of cultivating material worldwide, the 23-year-old junior engineer had a sense that something was missing. He saw that something on his bus rides through San Francisco’s Fillmore district – a social dynamism, a vibrant energy, a spirit, in the communities he passed through every day. It was a realization that led Ahmad to hand in his resignation to Standard Oil and change his college major at San Francisco State from engineering to psychology.
“That same inspiration has guided him in his work for the last 30 years as a social entrepreneur creating new possibilities with diverse communities. A rehabilitation counselor by day and community organizer around the clock, Ahmad sees his work in East Palo Alto as an outgrowth of his counseling profession; both involve understanding assets and working constructively toward self-empowerment. After joining with others in a successful effort to turn East Palo Alto into a municipality in 1983, Ahmad became an influential leader within the city, serving as chairman of the Human Services Commission, the Bayshore Employment Agency board, the East Palo Alto Planning Commission and the East Palo Alto Senior Center. In those roles, he has helped establish positive interagency partnerships and completed a redevelopment plan that includes a recreation center and low-income housing development.
“Seeing faith as central to human and community development, Ahmad has also served as an imam and infuses his work with a spiritual framework and spiritual terminology. ‘I try to establish a means by which a common spiritual quality connects people. The common aspect of spirit is the air we breathe. Every culture may have a unique way of expressing it, but every culture has a spirit,’ he says.
“Viewing East Palo Alto as ‘sacred ground,’ Ahmad’s vision for community revitalization includes increasing people’s ability to appreciate and sustain their humanity and their core values without getting wrapped up in politics that sabotage that humanity and those values. “When you’re working with an individual, there’s a clear understanding of the issues and challenges,” he said. “When you’re working with a community, there are diverse opinions and either clarity or confusion. My focus is the total community.”
“Ahmad has been a Wildflowers fellow since 2002.”
Also visit www.epa.net/launch/news/localnws/item?item_id=646406 and www.insidebayarea.com/ci_10896183?source=most_viewed.
Singer Ajuana Black at Soft Notes
Ajuana Black is performing at Soft Notes Restaurant & Lounge in Oakland. Visit www.ajuanablack.com or make reservations to see her at Soft Notes by calling (510) 444-7587.
Barack Obama Party
After the African Drum and Dance Festival at the Malonga Center for the Arts, 1428 Alice St. in downtown Oakland, Sia Amma of Global Women Intact is hosting a Barack Obama Party, Friday, Nov. 7, 9 p.m., with Ousseynou Kouyate, DJ Smoky’s “One Blood Reggae Sound” and DJ Omar. Tickets are $12, $10 with student ID, at the Shattuck Down Low, 2284 Shattuck Ave., in Berkeley. Celebrants are invited to dance, eat authentic African food, drink, win a prize and party like a rock star at the Sabar Party. Call (510) 548-1159 or visit www.shattuckdownlow.com, www.celebrateclitoris.com/index.html or www.globalwomenintact.org.
The San Francisco Bay Area African Dance and Drum Festival in Oakland
The Dance and Drum Festival started Wednesday, Nov 5, and runs through Sunday, Nov 9. Imagine, five wonderful days of traditional African dance, drumming and songs, with master dancers and drummers from Senegal, Liberia Mali, Guinea and Gambia, as well as different styles of drumming and dancing of Sabar, Djembe and Kutiro, as well as Congolese styles of dance and drum. Whether you are new or a veteran to African dance, they’d love to see you there. All levels are welcome. Here’s the workshop schedule:
Friday, Nov. 7
- 6:00-7:30 p.m. Djembe Drum with Nuyma Weah
- 6:00-7:30 p.m. Mali Dance with Djeneba Sako
- 7:30-8:30 p.m. Drum Class with Abdoul Doumba
- 7:30-9:00 p.m. Sabar Dance with Ousmane Sall
Saturday, Nov. 8
- 10:00-11:30 a.m. Guinea Dance with Mamady Sano
- 11:30-1:00 p.m. Kutiro Dance with Marie Basse-Wiles
- 1:00-2:30 p.m. Congolese Dance with Muisi K. Malonga
- 1:00-2:30 p.m. Drum Class with Abdoul Doumba
- 1:00-2:30 p.m. Djembe Drum Class with Nuyma Weah
- 2:30-4:00 p.m. Guinea Dance with Mouminatou Camara
- 3:00-4:30 p.m. Drum Class with Nuyma Weah
- 4:00-5:30 p.m. Sabar Dance with Ousmane Sall
- 4:00-5:30 p.m. Djembe Drum Class with Abdoul Doumba
- 5:30-7:00 p.m. Guinea Dance with Mariatou Sano
- 7:00-8:30 p.m. Sabar Dance with N’deye Gueye
- 7:00-8:30 p.m. Drum Class with Abdoul Doumba
- 8:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Guinea Dance with Youssouf Koumbassa
Sunday, Nov. 9
- 10:30-12:00 p.m. Guinea Dance with Mamady Sano
- 12:00-1:30 p.m. Sabar Dance with M’Bayero Patrice
- 1:30-3:00 p.m. Guinea Dance with Mouminatou Camara
- 1:30-3:00 p.m. Djembe Drum Class with Nuyma Weah
- 3:00-4:30 p.m. Guinea Dance with Alseny Soumah
- 3:00-4:30 p.m. Guinea Drum with Fode Bangoura
- 4:30-6:00 p.m. Sabar Dance with Marie Basse-Wiles
- 6:00-7:30 p.m. Guinea Dance with Youssouf Koumbassa
First Friday Events at the Oakland Museum of California
Every first Friday and the Oakland Museum the party starts at 5 p.m. and continues until 9 p.m. On Friday, Nov. 7, dance to the African rhythms of Candido Oye Oba and Friends in the café – and so much more:
At the annual Teacher Feature, 4-7 p.m., enjoy talks by Days of the Dead artists Peter and Maureen Langenbach and participating students and teachers.
At 7 p.m., Adopted and Fostered Adults of the African Diaspora (AFAAD) presents the film “Outside Looking In: Transracial Adoption in America” about three families with transracially different generations growing up in three different regions of the country. Lisa Marie Rollins, AFAAD founder and executive director, moderates a discussion after the film.
At 8 p.m., it’s the Curator’s Tour: Fernando Hernández, guest curator of “Evolution of a Sacred Space: Días de los Muertos 2008,” leads a tour of the exhibition and artists from the East Bay Art Collaborative discuss their works on display in the Columbarium.
Spoken Word at 8 p.m.: Speak Out presents spoken word and hip-hop artist Ise Lyfe in his newest one-man show, “Is Everybody Stupid(?)” for audiences 16 and older. Using personal photographs, photos from magazines and the internet, statistics and archival documents, he takes on American apathy, mass media and politics.
This is one of the most exciting parties in Oakland! There is a full cash bar-museum store and café open. All ages are welcome, and all the events are included with museum admission.
Classes at Alkebulan Books
Classes at Alkebulan Books, 1757 Alcatraz Ave., Berkeley, begin with Ifa and Orisha Studies with Professor Luisa Tiesh:
- Friday, Nov. 7, 7-9:30 p.m. Introduction to Orisha Studies
- Friday, Dec. 5, 7-9:30 p.m. Introduction to Divination
Kametic and Indus Kush Astrology with Marcus Gary (Shekhem Samerit Kau):
- Thursday, Oct. 30, 6:30-9 p.m. Introduction to Tree of Life Astrology
- Saturday, Nov. 22, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Introduction to Kamitic Indus-Kush Astrology
Each of the classes listed above is $30 in advance. Student and senior discounts are available.
Symbolism, Rituals and Religion with Imhotep Ptah Amun:
- Friday, Nov. 14, 6:30-9 p.m. History of the “Pinus” (Christmas tree)
- Fridays, Nov. 21 and 28, 6:30-9 p.m. Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge
- Fridays, Dec. 12, 19 and 26, 6:30-9 p.m. Divine knowledge vs. Empirical Knowledge
These classes are $25 each or $125 for all six classes. For student and senior discounts, advance registration, special pricing for multiple classes, group rates or questions, contact Shannette at (510) 595-7918. No one will be turned away for lack of funds.
Ausar Auset Society West Coast
Ausar Auset Society West Coast Chapter sponsors Ancient Tools for Successful Living One Day Intensive Workshops at ASA Academy, 2811 Adeline at 28th, West Oakland, Saturday, Nov. 8, 12 to 3 p.m. Registration is at 11:30 a.m. The society has been a leader in providing Kamitic teachings for over 16 years. Here’s the course schedule:
12 p.m. Het Heru (Oshun) Lunar Cycle Workshop with Beqsura Takhi (Priesthood), $10.
The 2008 lunar period between Oct. 28 and Nov. 27 is governed by the energies of Het Heru. This energy, the seventh sphere on the Tree of Life, is the divine faculty in everyone’s spirit that governs our ability to program any beneficial behavior into our spirit through the power of visualization. Meditating with this energy can assist in cultivating better personal relationships. Het Heru also governs creativity, art and romance. This is a meditation class. It is recommended that you only eat lightly, if at all, in the 30 minutes prior to the class. Required materials: “Metu Neter Vols. 1-3,” “Tree of Life Meditation, Het Heru Guided.” Meditation CDs by Ra Un Nefer Amen I.
Free bonus class: 1:15 p.m. Chinese Herbs for the Winter Season with Uanassa (Priesthood). Treat your cold naturally! This course will take you through a list of Chinese herbal formulas that can assist in treating the common ailments that arise during the winter season.
1:30 p.m. Kamitic Way of the Spirit (Amen and Geb) with Neter Aa Meri (Priesthood), $10. The Tree of Life (Paut Neteru), as described by the Ancient Kamitians (Egyptians), is the oldest blueprint for understanding the underlying structure of the universe, including our own spirit. This course will focus on two faculties on the tree that complement one another: Amen (sphere “0,” our essence, inner peace, no-thingness) and Geb (sphere “10,” physical reality, energy manifestation). Recommended books: “Metu Neter Vols. 1-3,” “Maat: The 11 Laws of God by Ra Un Nefer Amen I.”
3 p.m. Metu Neter Oracle Fundamentals, Parts I and II, with Shekhem Samerit Kau (Priesthood), $10. Get instructions on how to use the Great Oracle of Kamit, the Metu Neter, to gain spiritual insight and guidance into all of life’s accomplishments, including career, relationships, finances, health etc. This class is a follow-up to October’s Oracle class, but will be taught so anyone can join. Required text: “Metu Neter Vols. 1 and 3” and “Oracle Cards” by Ra Un Nefer Amen I.
Meals are available for $10. References and materials are available on site for purchase. The facility is also wheelchair accessible. There is no child care available. For information, contact email@example.com or call (510) 536-5934 or (510) 253-8120.
3rd I: San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival
3rd I, the Bay Area’s premiere showcase for South Asian film, ready for its sixth run, proudly announces its program for the San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival. This year the festival expands to four days and two venues: Opening at Brava Theater Center, 2789 24th St., on Thursday and Friday, Nov. 13 and 14, it moves to the historic Castro Theater, 429 Castro St., on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 15 and 16.
From art-house classics to documentary films, innovative and experimental visions to next-level Bollywood, 3rd I is committed to promoting diverse images of South Asians through independent film. This year’s festival will showcase films from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, the Maldives, the global South Asian Diaspora, the United Kingdom and the United States.
As always, the focus of Opening Night at the Brava Theater Center is on homegrown talent, and this year 3rd I features two California-based filmmakers. Bay Area filmmaker Saqib Mausoof’s film, “Kala Pul” (“Black Bridge”) (USA/Pakistan), weaves a tale along the fault lines that separate Pakistan’s urban modernity from its fundamentalism. It is preceded by the insightful short, “Midnight Lost and Found” (USA), directed by Amit Sabharwal, about the lonely nights of a Mumbai pharmacy worker.
In addition the festival has several co-productions with the United States, Denmark, France and Germany, including a screening of the stunning newly restored print of the 1929 film, “A Throw of the Dice” (India/Germany/UK), with a remarkable new score by Nitin Sawhney. 3rd I has featured other films by Franz Osten at previous festivals: “Shiraz” at 3rd I 2003 and “Prem Sanyas,” co-presented at the 2004 Silent Film Festival.
In addition, “Flow: For Love of Water” (USA) examines how the world’s primary resource is being hijacked by corporate greed. Documentarian Irene Salina travels across the world documenting how dedicated activists are challenging the big corporations and offers creative, sustainable solutions from the ground up.
On a more macabre note is “Hell’s Ground” (Pakistan/UK), director Omar Ali Khan’s fright fest about five Pakistani teenagers who pile into a van and head to a rock concert, only to run out of gas in the zombie-infested habitat of a mace-swinging, burkha-clad butcher. This delightfully gory film is co-presented by Midnight for Maniacs.
The festival website www.thirdi.org/festival includes the full festival lineup and information on tickets and passes. Or, for more information about the festival, call (415) 835-4783.
Acclaimed Native American environmentalist and author Winona LaDuke
Join sponsors Speak Out and KPFA for an important conversation with acclaimed author and activist Winona LaDuke, one of our country’s most cherished voices. The topic is “Building a Green Economy: Indigenous Strategies for a Sustainable Future.” This is an historic moment. Change is in the air. How can we push for radically different environmental policies in an Obama presidency? How can we learn from Indigenous perspectives and practices to build a true green economy?
Winona LaDuke of the Mississippi Band of Anishinaabeg is the founding director of White Earth Land Recovery Project and executive director of Honor the Earth, where she works on a national level to advocate, raise public support and create funding for frontline Native environmental groups.
She has written extensively on Native American and environmental issues. Her books include “Recovering the Sacred: The Power of Naming and Claiming” and “All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life.” Proceeds benefit Speak Out and Honor the Earth.
The event is Friday, Nov. 14, 7 p.m., at First Congregational Church, 2501 Harrison St., Oakland. For more information, contact Speak Out at (510) 601-0182, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.SpeakOutNow.org.
Rejoyce! A Holiday Bazaar
The Joyce Gordon Gallery celebrates the completion of its fifth year and the beginning of its sixth year with Rejoyce! A Holiday Bazaar, featuring more than 17 artists, including painters, photographers and sculptors. The salon style exhibit will focus on affordable art for the holidays, a benefit silent auction for the eighth grade class of Northern Lights School in Oakland and a community gathering on New Year’s Eve.
Foad Satterfield, Mildred Thompson, Anthony Hall, Carolyn Hinman, James Reid, Carl E. Karni-Bain “Bai,” Harun M. Black, Gabe Sheen, Hiroko To, Bijan Yashar, Michelle de la Menardiere, Rodger C. Birt, Nancy Price Scoular, Saska Smith, Agustin Castillo, Kwesi Hutchful, Martine Jardel, Stevens Jay Carter, Anna W. Edwards, Jimi L. Evins, Pauletta M. Chanco, David Ruth, Sandra Chen Weinstein, Bryan Keith Thomas, Malik Seneferu, Tricia Grame, Renata Gray, Eric Murphy, Nosa Okungbowa and Jason Dunman bring art to the people at Joyce Gordon Gallery, 406 14th St., near 12th Street BART, Oakland, (510) 465-8928.
The exhibit is up Nov. 7 through Dec. 31. The opening reception is free: Friday, Nov. 7, 5:30-9:30 p.m., beginning with a silent auction. The closing reception is Dec. 31, when the bidding also closes. The closing event is free also.
‘Angry Black White Boy’ at Intersection for the Arts
In Dan Wolf’s adaptation of Adam Mansbach’s novel “Angry Black White Boy,” the protagonist is a white man who hates all things his gender and race stand for: privilege and power. The Angry White Boy rooms, while at Columbia University, with the Black descendent of the first Black player to integrate major league baseball. The Angry White Boy is a descendent of the owner who almost got the Black player lynched. He wants to do something to mend or correct the legacy his ancestor left but isn’t quite certain what he should do about it. Meanwhile, his roommate is not interested in that “old history.” He feels it’s a new day and time to move on.
The novel is written like a freestyle – improvisational like jazz, infused and multilayered like a good house mix. On stage the characters play with the various elements of hip hop – rap, MCing, b-boying, beat-boxing – while exploring the intimate territory between guilt and conscience. The race question is addressed but not answered and people apologize. Yet, the play leaves one hanging – not in a bad way, rather realistically. After all who in her right mind would sacrifice privilege for the uncomfortable position of equality, a freeing notion the oppressed dream of?
The ensemble is wonderful together and the writing is superb. Dan Wolf weaves a provocative story and his portrayal of the protagonist is stunning, as is Myer Clark’s portrayal of his roommate.
The Angry White Boy drives a cab to put himself through Columbia University; he doesn’t want his parents’ money. The only thing is he’s moonlighting as something else. He believes he’s hip hop, but he’s not, just because he can’t let go of the control. Everything is too prepackged, too organized. He doesn’t listen to his roommate or his roommates’ cousin when they tell him the idea of a “Day of Apology” is not a good idea, but does he listen?
“Angry White Boy” explores the difficulty inherent in trying on another person’s skin without proper treatment. It’s almost as if one needs an orientation first before putting one’s hand in the sleeve – one might get stuck or the coat might not let go.
The play is up Thursdays through Sundays, closing Nov. 16. The theatre is at 446 Valencia St., between 15th and 17th in San Francisco. Visit www.theintersection.org or call (415) 626-2787. Listen to an interview with director, Sean San Jose on www.wandaspicks.asmnetwork.org in the Nov. 7 9 a.m. segment.
August Wilson’s ‘Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,’ a review
Wednesday, Nov. 5, August Wilson’s second play in the 100-year cycle on Black life in America, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” opened at Berkeley Rep to much pomp and circumstance. Just one day after Barack Obama’s victory at the polls, folks were smiling secret and open smiles … steps a little higher and sashaying hips, a bit more saucy, as we couldn’t contain our elation. Director Delroy Lindo’s wife, artist Nashormeh Lindo, had Obama’s likeness painted on one of her nails. I wonder if it was a lithograph? Just kidding. I was not surprised to see Obama there – it was a uniquely artistic statement, which was so Nashormeh Lindo.
“Joe Turner,” directed by Delroy Lindo and featuring a stellar cast, was the first play I saw of Wilson’s many years ago. ACT was the presenter and James Earl Jones played the role of Herald Loomis, or he might have been Bynum Walker. All I remember is that my friend’s son was Reuben Mercer, the neighborhood kid who befriends the motherless girl child, Zonia Loomis. Set in 1911, just after emancipation at a time when Black men were kidnapped by “Joe Turners” and reenslaved, this play looks at Christianity’s role in the African American familial discourse – how in the Loomis family it was truly an opiate.
Loomis returns home to find his wife gone and his daughter abandoned, so he begins a sojourn to find his wife. It takes him and his daughter north, where he hopes to shake the painful past and start fresh – the horrors of the past too close and too traumatic to deal with. Loomis is a walking dead man. There is a reference to the valley of the bones in the play – it’s a place where our ancestors lie … it’s a place where there is peace … it’s a place where one can remember who he is, so he can move on. This place is also referenced in Wilson’s first play, “Gem of the Ocean,” then again in his final play, number 10, “Radio Golf.”
“Joe Turner” is a story of loss – irreplaceable and irretrievable loss. What Loomis loses he can’t get back. He’s injured almost to the point of no return, but his child is what keeps him going, that and the search for his wife and what they had – love. Souls need love to survive.
The story pivots around three couples: Loomis and his lost wife, Martha; the boarding house proprietors, Seth Holly and Bertha Holly; and the children, Zonia Loomis and Reuben Mercer. There are other people – a single man who doesn’t know the ways of white folks, and two single women: one fast, the other slow. All live in the boardinghouse, which is the setting for the story, except for the one white character, Rutherford Selig, who finds people – for a price.
Among the boarders is Bynum Walker, a roots man who is connected to ancestral energy and can see beyond the temporal. He’s my favorite character from his first lines, where he talks about his song and the importance of remembering one’s song and singing it, to his gift of “binding those people to one another” in love. He’s a wild card, especially so in actor Brent Jennings’ adept hands: His roots sit on the table next to him in a pan and his chickens are buried in Seth Holly’s yard where her bloody libations are poured on their graves. I also like the sassy boarder Erica Peebles (actress Tiffany Michelle Thompson). Her opinions of the fairer sex, men, are refreshingly honest.
The cast is delightful, especially Barry Shabaka Henley and Kim Staunton as the Holly couple. Teagle F. Bougere as Herald Loomis plays the character with much physicality. At one point I thought he was going to roll off the stage. Yet in the moments where his character, no matter how damaged emotionally, tries to convey his concern for his daughter or his longing for his wife, the synergy between the actors left me cold. Technically suburb, I couldn’t feel them, which was perhaps the intent. Maybe what this actor was going for was his character’s complete absence from his body, from his heart, his hollow soul. It made his realization later on that much more startling and shocking. August Wilson’s Loomis gives one an entirely different take on self-mutilation.
I guess after seeing “Radio Golf” just two weeks ago, where the couple, Mame and Hammon, were so passionate about everything, in contrast to the Loomis couple, who are so tragically lost in themselves, it’s a relief to have the Loomis family set against the Holly husband and wife team. The couple is the center of gravity – normal, if there is a normal in the Pittsburg Hill District for the second generation descendants of former slaves and their children. In some way, Loomis is doomed, but his daughter and the neighborhood kid represent hope.
The play continues through Dec. 14 on the Thrust Stage. Berkeley Rep is located at 2025 Addison St., Berkeley. For tickets, call (510) 647-2949. Box office hours are Tuesday through Sunday, noon to 7 p.m.
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at email@example.com. Visit her website and blog at www.wandaspicks.com for an expanded version of Wanda’s Picks, her photos and her radio show.