The past is always present in our lives and nowhere more so than in this challenging play.
Lena, a successful black playwright, is writing a play based on actual ex-slave narratives taped in the 1930’s. Mostly in their 90’s, they spoke in quavering voices, that often cracked, but with memories firm and grief-filled. What it was like to see family members dragged on to the auction block and sold like cattle; how it felt to be at the mercy of a brutal drunken master; how casually young women were used sexually and discarded; how a teenage boy in Africa was lured on to a slave ship and enslaved. But what significance can this have in our own time? Aren’t we past all that? Can’t love between black and white erase the memories of past cruelty and betrayal? That is the subject tackled by author Les Wieder and he faces it head-on.
In the play, Lena is in love with David, who is white, and all her certainties about marriage and commitment are thrown into confusion. Educated like herself, David is a college professor who shares her passion for the evil done in their shared past. But her family forbids even dating out of her race, and her father, a preacher with deep suspicion of all whites, is adamantly against inter-marriage. Her best friend Val, a peripatetic airline stewardess, is not influenced by the past and, seeing that Lena is in love, encourages her to go for it fully. But, haunted by the ex-slaves voices, Lena feels she is betraying them in some deep way and struggles against her deeper feelings. In the end, it is up to her to accept or reject the love offered and the voices are there to help her decide.
Inda Craig-Galvan, as Lena, is totally believable in her struggle to understand what she owes to the past; Dave Rosenberg, as David, is impressive as one who knows what he wants and never falters; Danielle Lewis, as Val, is terrific as a sexy gal who likes men of any color; Thomas Silcott portrays two of the ex-slaves admirably, with dignity and humor, but it is as Rev. Walker, Lena’s father, that he dominates the play as he fights to make clear his distinction between racial prejudice and racial pride. As a number of the Voices, RJ Farrington and Sharyn Michele are poignantly real as they share their heartbreaking remembrances.
Under Malik B. El-Amin’s bold direction what could have been an intellectual debate comes vibrantly to life. Finely detailed are the set by Terrell Rodefer, costumes by Pat Payne and lighting by Erin J. Anderson. Produced by Sabah El-Amin for Griot Theatre, 17500 Burbank Blvd, Encino, through April 14. Tickets at www.brownpapertickets.com or (818) 703-7170. Info at www.GriotTheatre.org