by Wanda Sabir
Ayodele Nzinga’s “Mama at Twilight: Death by Love” is a haunting look at a family crippled by circumstances. How does a man prepare for adult responsibilities when his father is nowhere around? When a young Marie-Rose meets Mario Jefferson at 15 doing community service at her father’s church, she knows he is the man she wants to spend her life with. She says: “He was wild. But I knew he had a soft side. It just didn’t have an audience. He was smart but he went to pains not to show it. Bad was like a part he played but I knew the real him.”
Three grown children later, Mama still loves the man she fell in love with and has no regrets over its costly price or the raised eyebrows and whispers that sought to sanction her. All she needs is his love, and her Pappi loves his Mama too, even as he questions his good fortune. How could he deserve such a woman? he asks. It is a question put to the test when Pappi has to find his legs and walk like a man. In this powerful moment, Pierre Scott’s Pappi faces himself for the first time with faith.
An August Wilson protégée, Dr. Nzinga reflects a reality which is all too true. Heterosexual Black women in North America are the latest epidemic in an HIV pandemic, especially among women Mama’s age and older – women whose children are grown. Though we are not clear how Mama gets infected, she is twice victimized. The second is inadequate and inefficient health care service delivery. Both parents work, the three children are smart, articulate and well on their way to success in their chosen fields: Tonya (Noelle Audrey Rose), a dancer, Sun (Stanley Thomas Hunt II), a photographer, and the eldest, Kristopher (Julian Green), a writer. They don’t have to travel far for material.
Yet despite the family meals, collective grace and laughter, there is an elephant in the room, begging for crumbs, and he grows larger, so large that the dining room, where many of the scenes take place, can no longer contain him. He then sits, and nothing can move him except truth. Lil Mama (Noelle Audrey Rose), who bites her tongue for no one, acknowledges his presence and speaks.
An August Wilson protégée, Dr. Nzinga reflects a reality which is all too true. Heterosexual Black women in North America are the latest epidemic in an HIV pandemic, especially among women Mama’s age and older – women whose children are grown.
How is it possible to hold anger and love in the same vessel? “Mama at Twilight” answers this question. It is Mama’s grace, elegantly danced by Cat Brooks, which sets the tone. Her example gives Lil Mama permission to hold anger and love in the same vessel. Her mother loves Pappi through distress and heartache, happiness and joy. What Pappi gives his wife is brutal honesty. The kind of love she has for Pappi is “agape” love, a selfless love that expects nothing in return, or perhaps Mama’s love is “hesed” or lovingkindness.
Nzinga asks, who will love the men who are not perfect, the men who find living on social peripheries exciting, despite danger, the men who make multiple mistakes … some irreversible? Set to a score which haunts as it soothes, Mama takes us on a journey into crevices some patrons might find hard to climb out of. However, those familiar with Lower Bottom Playaz by reputation know the work is participatory. There are no idle spectators no matter how high in the theatre seats one sits. “Ritual theatre” by definition means both audience and actors work in tangent, transformation a process all participate in.
Infidelity, hustling, imprisonment, abandonment, infectious disease and death are topics for mature audiences, yet Nzinga lets characters walk a tier balanced by love. This Mama holds her family close and they in turn hold each other. The emotional terrain is treacherous and there is no net. The work highlights a reality, which is all too common when economic ends just barely meet as a crisis occurs. The show, at Flight Deck, 1540 Broadway in Oakland, closes Sunday, Jan. 29. Shows are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., also Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. For tickets and information, go to lowerbottomplayaz.com or call 510-332-1319.
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 7 a.m. and Fridays at 8 a.m., can be heard by phone at 347-237-4610 and are archived at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.