Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Brava Theatre and African American Shakespeare Company present: U.S. Premiere of IPH…

Agamemnon writhes on his stark cellar floor, gripped by a nightmare he must adhere to—kill his daughter to appease the gods. And what a lovely daughter she is—and what a loving relationship he has with his daughter who sees how troubled he is and wishes away Troy and war and the battles men wage which make no one happy.

Is there ever so much bloodletting one has to say enough? Cups runneth over many times and thirst is still not satiated. What a task Agamemnon takes on…if one asked his wife, Klytaimnestra the answer would clearly be no. She tells him, “What, I have children for you to kill them. Who is next?”

As Agamemnon wages war within himself—his wife and the brother whose wife ran away with an enemy—the famous “Helen of Troy,” whose honor Greece takes on in a war, even after her husband, Agamemnon’s brother, Menelaus, tells him no, spare his daughter.

I love C. Kelly Wright’s “Klytaimnestra” What a wonderful mother she portrays, especially in her grief—her agony is all too real—Agamemnon a serial child killer, Iphigenia is not the first he has slaughtered. This tragedy follows such joy, mother and daughter singing, happily anticipating Klytaimnestra’s marriage to Achilles—a dashing warrior god.

Traci Tolmarie’s lovely “Iphigenia” resigns herself to her father’s wishes like the good daughter she is. Her decision reminds me of the bull who agreed to his sacrifice at the ritual I attended in Rufisque, Senegal. He ceased struggling and decided to surrender to his fate. But the girl is not meat. No one benefits from her slaughter. Her flesh doesn’t feed the hungry just a bloodthirsty god. I felt like weeping with her mom.

The chorus keeps the story moving and the audience filled in on the latest dirt as the four women salivate over Achilles, Iphigenia’s intended finance. The backdrop is a multimedia collage on screen that brings the war all too close to home—images, a mix of Agamemnon’s agony, his face juxtaposed with that of his child—wars past and present, here and at home.

Agamemnon sacrifices more than a child. He loses his peace even after the war is won.

90 minutes without intermission—I think one would have to see the play more than once or at least read the script, to fully appreciate Colin Teevan’s translation and adaptation, his lovely writing, as well as the scripts subtle nuances which are both old and new. Callender says in the program that he sat with the play for a few years—just go see it twice; it won’t be up in 2013 unless AASC and Brava bring it back (smile).

The use of cameras for real time video capture and simultaneous streaming which projected characters and scenes on the larger screen above…again is so African American Shakespeare and Brava Theatre—both companies known for their contemporary staging of the classics and the mixing of genres. I hope this collaboration is just one of many others to come between the two theatres.

Callender has started his tenure as Artistic Director of the African American Shakespeare Company with a bang…the fire works and confetti still falling. Don’t miss the start of his virgin season. IPH … is up through October 16 at Brava Theater, 2781 24th Street, San Francisco, (415) 647-2822 and

The Brothers Size at the Magic Theatre

I loved In the Red and Brown Water…part 1 of playwright, Tarell Alvin McCraney's The Brother/Sister Stories, at the Marin Theatre Company through October 10, and if there was a word which conveyed the way my heart wept for Ogun Size when once again his world was split asunder—that word would suffice and the string of approximate utterances in this littered space would be swept clear.

After the uninterrupted 90 minutes ended, I couldn’t move…not even for an ovation. I knew what to expect. I’d read the play a week prior, but I have come to know how what’s on the page is merely a glimpse into the life theatre breathes into a script—the water without oxygen—it was like that and more. I could barely compose myself to speak to Joshua whose “Ogun Size” was everything a brother would want in a brother and everything his name implies: Ogun—iron, stability, steadfastness. It was great seeing the play with a Priestess of Oya; the ride back from Ft. Mason Center where the Magic Theatre is housed—enlightening. What was most enlightening however was seeing three black men on stage telling stories about captivity and escape, healing and survival, trust and love.

There is that word again, but as Ogun told his brother when their two lives became one, Elegba’s recounting to Ogun his brother’s cries for his big brother while inside the prison, how he couldn’t compete nor did he want to—we are in this life together even when we are apart.

The story of Ogun and his kid brother in a town where the only policeman—a black man, sits waiting for young and old black men to make a mistake so he can lock them up. Reminds one of the slave catchers or patrollers lying in wait along dark dusty lonely roads.

When the play opens one hears drums and sees Ogun’s brother’s still form. Asleep, he grumbles when he is awakened. Since he’s been released, Oshoosi has trouble sleeping at night. Unemployed and on parole, all he can think about is cars and girls and sex—in that order. His buddy from prison, Elegba is the man to make it happen.

Themes like justice and freedom traverse the tenuous horizon where Brothers Size meet once again as Oshoosi’s nightmares awaken him or keep him awake…Ogun stuck in similar twilight landscapes. It is a place where what is impossible is possible—escape is a real possibility –the shovel used to dig the underground railroad against a wall in Ogun’s Garage.

Ogun tells his brother that while he was locked up he would sit and think about him and see him smile and sometimes laugh. Oshoosi tells his brother that he remembers him playing Santa Claus leaving him presents. Ogun remembers when he learns his mother; Yemeja is dead, Oshoosi kidding his brother about his tears.

There is so much between these two men –the affection and understanding and care and the synergy between Joshua Elijah Reese’s Ogun and Tobie Windham’s Oshoosi a tangible entity which is wonderful to witness on stage. Alex Ubokudom’s Elegba is outside the circle, eclipsing Oshoosi only when memories of prison return unbidden and unwelcome.

Elegba is the memory after the decay is gone along with the cavity—one slides his tongue around inside out of habit.

What did Oshoosi do to survive inside the prison? What was his and Elegba’s relationship? Can a relationship begun in prison sustain itself once the bars are removed? What happens when freedom erases the invisible lines drawn in the sand?

In some ways, Elegba reminds me of Morgan Freeman’s character in The Shawshank Redemption. In the film Freeman’s character tries to kill himself –captivity is something he knows, not freedom. Does Elegba try to commit a crime to go back to prison—something he knows, or is he just making bad choices? Are his actions deliberate or unintentional?

I last saw Tobie Windham in California Shakespeare Company’s Pastures of Heaven, which he performed an excerpt of at Quentin Easter’s memorial. I last saw Alex Ubokudom in the Stanford production this summer of Wanderings of Odysseus, where he played Achilles and Odysseus, along side L. Peter Callender. I see why he’d want to be in the house opening night at Brava and African American Shakespeare’s production of the U.S. premiere of IPH…. IPH is the back story and many of the key characters show up like Achilles who lost is wife before she was his own.

After seeing the Wanderings this summer, getting the back story is pretty cool stuff. Now I know why Odysseus wasn’t trying to get home too soon to Klytaimnestra.

I don’t know if Peter Callender, Artistic Director for African American Shakespeare Company, planned it this way or the gods, but everything seems lined up as if the oracles predicted it—Callender’s such a regal emissary (smile).

The Brothers Size is up through October 17 at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco, Bldg. D, Ft. Mason Center. There is a free performance scheduled at Laney College, 900 Fallon Street in Oakland, for Saturday, October 9, 2010 in the afternoon, perhaps about 1-2? Call (415) 441-8822 or


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