Written by Isis Swaby for THE ARTISTS FORUM MAGAZINE
Edited by Amos White V for THE ARTISTS FORUM, INC
Photos: Christine Jean Chambers
5 out of 5 stars
THE FIRE THIS TIME FESTIVAL 2011
NEW YORK, NY (February 18, 2011) On January 20th, during The Fire This Time Festival, I had the experience of witnessing a series of six plays in ten minutes in the East Village at the Red Room presented by Horse Trade Productions. The Fire This Time Festival explores the possibilities in “post-black” black theater, and provides a platform for talented, early-career playwrights of African-American descent to explore new voices, new styles and challenging new directions for 21st century performing arts, moving beyond common assumptions of what is possible in African-American theater.
The Eternal Return, written by Christine Jean Chambers and directed by Colette Robert, told a story about a couple (played by Alexander C. Mulzac and Michaela Watkins) who displayed their battles with loving each other, through a series of humorous disagreements, and intimate moments in their bedroom. The two actors had a great chemistry which left me feeling emotionally touched by the dysfunctions of the relationship.
The Sporting Life of Icarus Jones, written by Marcus Gardley, and directed by Lynda Gravatt, expressed melancholy sentiments in the first few seconds in the show; Deadlust Jones’s wife died due to the birth of their son, Icarus. However, in the next five minutes in the play, the emotion shifted from sadness to laughter, when Deadlust Jones’ (played by Stanley W. Mathis) gave his son, Icarus (played by Clinton Roane) uncanny advice about life and defending himself in their neighborhood. I enjoyed Zurin Vilianueva, who played a nurse, songstress, and narrator; she was a great touch to the play which lightened up the serious topics of homosexuality and suicide.
Exodus, written by Camille Darby and directed by Christopher Burris, represented the changes in life which occur when parents age and children become adults. The mother, Janet, played by Lisa Strum, is no longer the superior figure of her daughter, Catherine, played by Angela Polite. She is making decisions for her mother because she craves to be in control of a situation more than her own marriage. But she still is her mother’s child even though she has a lack of understanding of her mother’s conditional needs for her own home life. But she desires her mother supportive advice about her estranged married. The writing was very relevant because it showed how relationships transform and families try their best to maintain the balance of transformations.
Breakfast, written by Yusef Miller and directed by Zoey, provided a hidden anger through the topic of arguing over Pop Tarts for breakfast. Glen (played by Sean C. Turner) and Harriet (played by Juliette Jeffers) won the audience over with their resentfully on-set relationship. Miller wrote humorously, but there was clearly a serious topic being discussed over the morning breakfast. Their son’s death was the hidden topic of what lead him to suicide. Miller stated, “I believe my play, Breakfast is a strong introduction to my artistic voice. The issue of teen suicide, stemming from the demonization of and the indifference to homosexuality within our schools and homes is a burning issue. And, so I hope I have exposed it, astutely, from within its darkest corner.”
The Scorpion and the Fox was written by Jesse Cameron and directed by LA Williams. This play was basically about a father and son’s relationship and how the son judges his father decisions—the relationship on set was somewhat dry. Jared Joseph played a guilty father, while Chauncey Gilbert played the son. Joseph had a strong performance because he made it amusingly funny within the last five minutes of the show with his body movements.
Third Grade was written by Dominique Morisseau and directed by Monica L. Williams. This play was about an angry parent (played by Louis Martinez) who came to seek revenge on his son’s teacher (played by Andrea Patterson). The strong storyline was true to the fact that New York City children are growing up quickly compared to their suburban counterparts, because of their exposure of city life. Morisseau presented Third Grade it as a platform that questioned the teachers’ role, and parents’ role. Teachers roles are very difficult — tasked to educate children for parents who aren’t being responsible for their children’s actions or experiences. There is a lost of education, parental guidance, responsibility, and community but Third Grade attempts to answer all these questions.
Yusef Miller stated, “Clearly, this festival is building momentum and its audience. Right now, it is incumbent upon its current supporters like yourselves to continue your support. Your continued support guarantees improvements in production value, casting, and directing. Moreover, your continued support indirectly raises the creative bar for us playwrights.” I received a dose of enlightenment from each piece; all of which gave an interesting snapshot of African-American talent in theatre arts.
On January 26th, I went to see another play called On Troubled Waters by Derek Lee McPhatter — There may be nothing left to lose as the city vanishes into the sea but three challengers – a healer, a teacher and a soldier will finally confront that madman at the bridge. It’s a showdown, throw-down for the ages, but nobody agreed to a fair fight, and this time madness just might be love. McPhatter gave a different spin on his play with a more sci-fi animated characters; his play was very humorous, and picked a grand cast to deliver the material.
All and all, I enjoyed The Fire This Time Festival and look forward to next years production.
For more information about Horse Trade Productions, visit: horsetrade.info
For more information about The Fire This Time Festival, visit: facebook.com/firethistimefestival