Saturday, November 14, 2009

Crowded Fire Theatre's "Drip," directed by Marissa Wolf

I'd seen Natoma Street before but didn't quite know where. I'd been at a wedding earlier at UC Berkeley's Botanical Garden. In a small amphitheater in the Redwood Grove, Nisaa Karim and Tamir Erdenebat, traded vows. I left there for the reception, stopped off at home and then looked up and I only had just 20 minutes left to cross the bridge, find a parking spot and get to the Crowded Fire Theatre's "Boxcar Playhouse."

The plan was, when I got to the Bay Bridge toll plaza to decide whether I would go to the theatre where I had reservations, or go to the San Francisco Black Film Maker Tribute for Ave Montague. When I passed the Fremont exit, it looked like I had enough time to get to the play, especially once I was parked on Sixth Street at Howard.

Now where was Natoma Street? Hum, I saw Stephanie and Folsom; Mission and Market. I went into a nearby store and asked a patron, who knew the street, but not where; the clerk told me the street was two blocks up and pointed in that direction.

I found Natoma and started walking toward Seventh Street as my directions told me. When I looked down the narrow block it looked residential. Luckily there was also a sign.

90 minutes without an intermission, few latecomers and I in the lobby could hear the dialogue as we waited to be seated. We entered on a riot scene--was it Rosewood revisited or Black Wall Street in Oklahoma? Maybe it was New Jersey in 1967?

Intimate like Cutting Ball's theatre a few blocks north on Taylor, Crowded Fire's "Boxcar Playhouse" shares a space with a housing organization, a computer center and other interesting services--doors closed when I went exploring after using the restroom. The maze showed me out of the building via a different exit--the clerk asked me: "How did you get into the building," in front of him a clipboard where he obviously kept track. When he heard I was a guest of the theatre he told me how to return to the theatre, which I did and exited there along with the cast and production staff who'd carpooled and kindly asked me if I needed a lift to my car.

Drip by Christina Anderson, Nov. 1-21, Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., $15-$25 general; $10-$20 students, seniors and TBA members, is about a woman, Mae Roslyn, African American, suffers a stroke and lies dying in her hospital bed, yet this is not your typical life flashing before one's eyes scenarios--or maybe it is?

Jumbled memories parade across the stage, which grab their audience often just seconds away from an exit or terminus. Mae is 70+ when we meet her and her grandson, Brughjefferson (actor Shoresh Alaudini). The memories pile up, yet at its core are the hurts, wounds and pain Mae has not been able to reconcile over her seven decades/Brughjefferon over his 19 years. Why did her beloved husband Jerome Roslyn (actor David Skillman) leave her? Why can't she get rid of the scar/why can't she heal?

Juxtaposed with this is her grandson whom dropped out of school and church and carries a secret he can't reconcile, one which pushes him to hide behind alcohol, TV sitcoms and a tough stoic exterior?

Some of these memories are bundled in personas like Deacon Gray (actor Kele Nitoto) who holds Brughjefferson's nightmares. Mae's are scattered and hard to place, perhaps this is why she needs public transportation to get there.

Time is moving at a fast pace and neither Brughjefferson or his grandmother have a lot of time to travel. Though she can pay here way --destinations almost predetermined by society for those citizens whose history preclude or limit their chances at a happily ever after terminus, even if this is what they desire.

There are a lot of characters floating in this between space: between slave ships and freedom trains; house arrest and prison; limited warranty or expired salvation tickets and branded memories. These cloaked memories come personified in multiple guises--none of them pleasant, all kind of haunted and melodramatic...the quiet temporary...noise a space their largess demands or takes in both the grandmother and her grandson's lives, one where to manage, neither speak.

Both Mae and her grandson seem doomed...the scars too deep to heal, let alone cover with salve and then there is that incessant drip...the crazy making drip of the IV and the sound of the heart monitor. Mae and Brughjefferson have to make a decision. Neither has been open with the other and so the audience is not filled in on many details which the playwright conveniently leaves out like what happened to Brughjefferson's parents and why did his grandfather leave?

The chronology is inconsistent as is the narration. The only truths are those unspoken axioms Mae voices and then is shushed away.

We do know why Brughjefferson's smile disappeared after third grade and why he is angry, but not why he doesn't tell his grandmother, except the usual theories around dysfunctional male communication genes unless one is an artist, like Brughjefferson's friend Rai (actress Skyler Cooper). Rai is Brughjefferson's vehicle to truth because s/he loves him.

Mae meets lots of charlatans on her 70 year journey to her hospital bed in Kansas City--actors portray central roles and then with a red cap become these interestingly unreliable voyeurs actress Melvina Jones both a "Shape Shifter" and "Krew," mostly a con artist whom after Mae shows her her scar, looks at it and runs away, Mae kicked off the train.

Now Rami Margron's "Fayebrown" is probably the only person in Mae's jumbled memory whom shows some kind of compassion for Mae. Mae even comments on it: "Are you always so kind to your patrons?" She asks. Faybrown helps Mae face her painful memories. Faybrown helps Mae pack her suitcase, takes along one of her own, and even enters the eye of the storm with her. What is key about Fayebrown is her ability to heal her painful memories and keep going despite her scarred life.

Drip is metaphor at its finest, metaphor grounded in the reality that everyone in America does not have a fair chance like Mae and her progeny.

Drip shows us how isolated and isolating pain can be, even when these painful memories are socially shared. It made me wonder about Rwanda and South Africa. Did telling or saying one's truth out loud take away the scars? Did it make the victims feel any better? Did it make the guilty parties feel absolved from their guilt? A lot of this certainly depended on the power dynamic: recompense for the injury/punishment for the injurer. San Jose Rep's recently closedGroundswell looked at this issue.

Drip is told from the perspective of the victim, victims whom occupy up until the time of the stroke the place where power is uneven, if present at all. Both Mae and her grandson are victims and at the end of the play, society has not changed but they have.

But who wants a jailhouse conversion? This story is as tired as the paper it is printed on: 40 years after Malcolm Little takes an "X", 3-4 years after Stanley "Tookie" Williams is executed. I am hopeful for this character, but still angry that there is no mercy or room for compassion in the judicial system. Backstories do not matter...the chaos that birthed a Mae, a Jerome and a Brughjefferson are irrelevant.

Sister Soulja's Winter suffers a similar fate as Brughjefferson and so will so many other black, brown, Asian, Native or poor youth.

Photos: at the informal audience talk-back following the play facilitated by the director, Marissa Wolf


Post a Comment

<< Home