Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Prelude to Women's History Month

(Stephanie Berry on vacation in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. Stephanie just recently finished a run at Milwaukee Repertory Theater where she played Wiletta Mayer in Alice Childress' 1959 play, Trouble in Mind. Stephanie last appeared at the Rep as Aunt Ester in Gem of the Ocean. She appeared in Katrina: The Bridge at the University of Houston, a new work based on the stories of Hurricane Katrina survivors. Last seasons she was seen in Gee's Bend at Denver Center Theater Company. Stephanie plays Nicole Kidman's assistant, Carly, in the sci-fi movie Invasion and she plays the school principal, Ellen Parker, in the movie No Reservations, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones. Stephanie has been seen as a regular principal actress on various Law and ORder shows and other TV programs, for over 15 years. Stephanie is the winner of the OBI Award for "Best Performance" and the AUDELCO Award for "Solo Performance" in her one-woman show, The Shaneequa Chronicle: The Making of a Black Woman.

March is Women's History Month. A black female playwright that I was recently exposed to is Alice Childress. I traveled to see her play, Trouble in Mind at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater on February 12. A friend, Stephanie Berry played the main character, Wiletta Mayer. Trouble in Mind had a successful run beginning January 20 and ended February 15, 2009. The play included a Dialogue Series with its Director, Timothy Douglas, who entertained the audience on January 22 over hors d'oeuvres and wine in a conversation about his vision and insights prior to the play.

According to John O. Killens, Alice Childress' plays were an "exuberant celebration of the black experience with emphasis always on the heroic aspect of that experience in the constant struggle against racist oppression."(source: John O. Killens, "The Literary Genious of Alice Childress" in Black Women Writers 1950-1980" by Mari Evans. N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1984,129.)Childress' genius included the use of humor to write social commentary which she brilliantly demonstrates in Trouble in Mind. There were times I found myself laughing and later thinking, "was that really funny." Her ability to use humor is captured by Killens perceptive comments,"Even though one laughed throughout the entire presentation, there was, inescapably, the understanding that although one was having an undeniably emotional and a profoundundly intellectual experince, it was also political." Trouble in Mind is a "comedic drama about a group of black actors trying to make a go of it in a play conceived and directed by a "wellmeaning" white man.

Ironically, Childress wrote Trouble in Mind on a dare from Sidney Poitier who contended that a great play could not be written over night. She proved him wrong and Childress became the first black woman to win the Obie Award in 1956. In 1952 she achieved another great milestone as the first black woman to have her play, Gold Throught he Trees (a play about Harriet Tubman) produced in New York.

Childress wrote Trouble in Mind in 1949 and yet its themes are still relevant and fresh. , even more so with the recent election of our first black president.

We salute Alice Childress and other great female artists during Women's History Month. Stay tuned for a review of Stephanie Berry's, The Shaneequa Chronicles: The Making of a Black Woman (currently available for theater and University bookings.)

Take the opportunity to explore the contributions and lives of women and expand your awareness of women's history during the month of March.
Blessed Be! Rev. Qiyamah

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