Sunday, March 27, 2011

I was riding my bike today on the Bay Trail off Zone Way. There was a lull in the deluge of the past few days, so instead of walking the Lake I decided to pull out the bike, check the tires and go for a short ride. Sunny skies and vacant streets--it was a perfect day for a ride. Down at the bay trail the shorebirds were enjoying the low tide feast--I rode towards Alameda and then turned around and rode the opposite way making the circumference past the MLK Shoreline Center and observatory before checking my watch and deciding I needed to head home, so I could get ready to go to San Francisco for the Women of Calypso event at the African American Art and Culture Complex.

I was cruising along the path, mindful of the fallen tree branch blocking the sidewalk I'd seen earlier and saw ahead of me another cyclist. I was all ready to give him the customary greeting those of us on bikes generally give to one another when he said something derogatory to me as I passed him headed down toward Coliseum Way on 66th Avenue.

I was going to warn him about the blocked sidewalk--like "be careful. . . ." But after his filthy comment, I was happy he was headed in the opposite direction and didn't think anything else about him, until I looked over my right shoulder and there he was next to me.

He'd turned around and was following me asking me personal questions and propositioning me. I told him his attention was not appreciated and to get lost. He kept riding tandem and so I got into the street and as soon as I could safely do so, crossed to the other side, as he circled away across the street.

The cyclist kept riding ahead across from me and circling back as we reached San Leandro Street where he crossed over to where I was, to continue the sexual harassment.

I stopped at the 76 Service Station to tell him to get lost, to stop bothering me, and that I wanted him to ride in front and away from me. As I was saying this he fondled me and then tried several more times. I blocked his hand with my right hand and then reach in my pocket and tell him I am going to call the police.

He watches me dial the number, first one --my friend who is a martial arts expert and then then another, my daughter, before taking off.

He probably knew the OPD wouldn't come too quickly if there was no blood, and when I rode down the street to get help from the BART police officer, Officer Narcisse, who called but they never showed up.

All I remembered of the cyclist was that he had an accent, was over 40 and had on a blue helmet and he was scavenging for game paraphernalia like horns--we were next to the Oakland Coliseum. By the time I was ready to leave, the BART policeman's supervisor suggested he either follow me home or give me a ride. My bike wouldn't fit into his trunk so he followed me home. I thought that was really nice of him. That was my fear, that this pervert might find out where I lived.

Tonight, the police were ready to come to take the report--attempted rape, but I told the officer on the phone that was okay. I didn't need an officer to come by. I wanted to alert them of the assault so they would be aware of the incident. I got another incident number. I already had a case number from earlier today.

For a moment, I think I thought I was in Africa, not Oakland, when I picked up my phone to call someone for help. I would do this all the time in Senegal and Mali, even Gambia, when I was lost or had a problem. All I had to do is call one of my friends then give the phone to the person I was having an issue with and the issue would be resolved right away.

I wouldn't have given my phone to the drunk(?) Mexican, but the knowledge that I did have someone I could call who could be there shortly is not the reality in Oakland. I never saw police in Senegal or Mali, not like I see them here.

There was no need for police because the people took care of each other. We need the police here, often there is no one else.

I am wondering now about going for a bike ride . . . I need to get a stun gun or pepper spray. It's really messed up that I can't go for a ride anymore with the same sense of abandon and ease that I felt this morning when I started out ever again.

The assailant asked me if I rode on Sundays often, so does this mean he will be looking for me?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Fabulation Closes this Weekend with a Sweet Ticket Deal!

For its season finale, Lorraine Hansberry Theatre is selling tickets for $20 or pay-what-you-can. One has to order from the box office: (415) 345-7575.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lynn Nottage's "Ruined," directed by Liesl Tommy, at Berkeley Rep through April 10, 2011

It feels like just a day ago that I was seated in the Roda Theatre at Berkeley Rep watching or should I say participating in an event guaranteed to make one check her lapel for a humanity sticker to make sure it is still in tack. I would hate to have lost it between the scuffles of wayward beings masquerading as people on stage.

Lynn Nottage's Ruined
Lynn Nottage

Ruined, what does it mean to be ruined--to be available to a man too poor for a TV, so you are cast as the star in his home movie--Ruined.

Sexploitation, Blaxploitation in this case--women the cheapened vehicle for his easy ride? In war, especially a poor man's war, what fun is there except in the antics, criminal antics of the powerful over the powerless?

Ruined is so agreeable-- elastic, it functions in tangible and abstract terms--one can ruin something and then one can be ruined--both a noun and a verb--versatile and flexible-- like a woman's back when enough weight is placed on it.

What doesn't break you will make you strong?! There is a Chinese proverb, coined by Mao Tse-Tung, that says women hold up half the sky; well if this is true then those women live in Africa, over half of them victims of warfare. Those who can make the journey end up at Mama Nadi's Brothel where they find peace, even respect, safety and love.

Nestled in a rain forest not far from civilization or the big city, but just edgy enough to be safe from the gun shots one hears periodically between the band's numbers and the clink of glass on the table, is such a refuge. Men check their bullets at Mama Nadi's door and for a moment pretend to be gentlemen out for a fun evening of entertainment with willing women, women who participate (for a fee) in their daydreams.

The set is colorful as only in Africa--all the material found objects that lend an air of charm and chic to the place where one does his business just out the back door. The customer is always right--an extension of patriarchal charm, since all the customers are men.

A woman's body is the battlefield--it is a place in Ruined that holds both life and death--Nottage's characters familiar with both. It is not often one sees a play written and directed by black women, its director, Liesl Tommy from Cape Town, South Africa, a place also touched by violence, many of its women, like Mama Winnie Mandela also ruined.

Rape is a weapon of war. Salima (actress Pascale Armand) asks Sophie (actress Carla Duren) what she did to deserve to be raped. Sophie quickly assures her friend that it wasn't her fault, that she did nothing, that in fact she was the victim. At times Salima hates her body--its attractiveness, its allure, as do most of the women, including Josephine (actress Zainab Jah) whose lineage is royal, but that didn't save her from the same fate as the others.

They are all ruined. Ruined is a dead end that invites more of the same. It's no wonder that Sophie loves romance novels; if one can't have the one she loves--ever, then why not read about love that works, always works at least on paper (smile).

At the brothel tables are scattered about and there is a stage where musicians sit invitingly: Alvin Terry from Monroe, North Carolina, and Adesoji Odukogbe or "Soji" as we know him, from Nigeria, lead guitarist for the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti. The two musicians with Sophie on lead vocals soothe savage beasts, the music often taking both the characters and its audience on a journey away from the events unfolding on stage--a place no plane would willingly land.

Money cannot save anyone, although it helps Mr. Harari (actor Joseph Kamal) -- a business friend of Mama's who has his fingers in a variety of ventures like refrigeration and telecommunications--buy a little time.

Mama Nadi steers a neutral path to shores visited by demons and dragons, warring fractions who frequent her bar. It's scary just watching Tonye Patano's "Mama Nadi" keep her head and never lose her cool especially when a gun is at her head or a machete at her throat.

Remarkable woman--some folks have it--that cool element on frost control, and others, well when one meets a Mama Nadi-type, one instantly recognizes it--the gift. It's no wonder the women at the brothel call her "Mama" and count themselves lucky to have found her.

Even among the ruins--there is love. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that this is a fiction, a creation of Lynn Nottage's imagination, or perhaps it's because love sells (smile), or maybe it's for a little relief --I don't know. Lynn Nottage's protagonists in other work, all women, find love. Perhaps she is a romantic?

The love story kind of steps off the pages of Sophie's novel she reads aloud to Salima and Josephine.

There are two love stories in Ruined, one healthy, the other insane. One could say that themes unravel along lines ruined or tainted relationships travel, the trail peppered with loving references--

What of love is trust in a time of war? Is romance possible? How does a woman forget the memories inscribed in her body? How does she forgive the one with the knife?


Love and forgiveness are just two of many themes, all memorable, traversing the terrain in Ruined. One cannot find shoes sturdy enough to protect one from the overpowering emotions Ruined brings to the surface. Nottage's work is like this whether it is this work or Fabulation or the Reeducation of Undine or Intimate Apparel.

Fabulation is at Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, through March 27, 2011 at the Southside Theatre in Ft. Mason Center. Ruined is produced in association with Lorraine Hansberry Theatre as well. Visit (I interviewed Fabulation cast on my radio show, Friday, March 11, 2011, 9 AM and Ruined cast members Oberon and Tonye on the show Tuesday, March 15, 2011, in a Special Broadcast. Visit

Intimate Apparel is at San Jose State University Theatre March 16-19, 2011. I had the director, Buddy Butler on my radio show, Friday, March 4, 2011, 9:30 AM. He also directed the recent Tabia African American Ensemble Theatre's Jar the Floor. Visit

Christian (actor Oberon K.A. Adjepond) is a traveling salesman who knows a lot about the world and men. We meet him early in the play and he is the only decent man on stage with lines. Even when he disappears and returns only to disappear again, even when he is at his lowest, Christian is a man one can anchor herself to--he is reliable--well sort of (smile), and one can trust him.

When we meet him he and Mama are haggling over fabric or some such item and he gives her a good deal. He comes bearing poetry and chocolate. Yes, the man is a poet--one who when on the battle field recites a poem--Remember Saul Williams in Slam when the gangs surround him on the prison yard? It's like that with Christian too.

Only a fine writer like Nottage could take such tragedy and make us smile and laugh between the tears. The characters dance and sing and invite the audience at the top of Act 2 to dance and sing too. It is pretty remarkable.

The scenes between the three women, Josephine jealous of Sophie who was brutally raped and has a fistula which affects her movement--her body, a symbol of all that is horrific and terrible and wrong with war, wars men start and women suffer, are where Ruined--the story, lies.

The tenderness Sophie engenders from Mama Nadi, who didn't want her to stay, a woman who is a shrewd business woman with a "cold heart," creates some of the more touching scenes.

Christian, unlike the other male characters who are more transitory than permanent, stays and when he leaves he has no other choice; we do not want his mouth to get him killed. He is not subtle, so I am surprised he gets away with as much as he does when the bad guys call.

The tension on stage when soldiers: Fortune (Jason Bowen) and Laurent (Kola Ogundiran), and opposition leaders Jerome Kismembe (Wendell B. Franklin) and Commander Osebenga (Adrian Roberts) drop by Mama Nadi's for entertainment is palatable. If I were a drinking woman, I'd probably have a drink too . . . those actors are so good, they make a person lose control of her bowels.

Ruined at Berkeley Rep is a stellar production from the direction to the acting, set and stage design, the choreography, costumes and lighting. One should take a friend, don't go alone as I did. There are nine shows a week, Tuesday-Sunday with some Thursday, Saturday and Sunday matinees. Visit or call (510) 647-2949. There is a cool deal for 30 and under patrons: tickets are half price. There is also a same day student and senior rush for $10 on hour before curtain. Post-play discussions are Tuesday, March 22 and Friday, April 1. There are also free tastings and pre-show docent talks, so visit the website for all the details.

At Berkeley Rep, Oberon K.A. Adjepong (left) and Tonye Patano star in Ruined, a powerful new play by Lynn Nottage that won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Photo courtesy of

Sunday, March 13, 2011

American Theatre Tradition continues

At his reception, the new artistic director at Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, Steven Anthony Jones, stated that the 30 year old theatre, under his leadership was ushering in or continuing its founders, Stanley Williams and Quentin Easter’s American African Theatre tradition.

It was a somber night, one filled with both joy and sorrow—the weather was even kind of iffy, not knowing whether it was PC (politically correct) to stay its forecasted showers or let it pour. It decided on the latter, at least until the show was over, and what a premiere performance it was indeed, highlighting the extraordinary talents of many San Francisco Bay Area favorites on stage: Margo Hall who was fantastic as “Undine Barnes Calles," a successful African American Public Relations maven at the top of her game accouterments not withstanding: Gucci glasses, Louis Vuitton bag and Barcelino dress,” David Westley Skillman as “Accountant/Ensemble,” Halili Knox as “Mother/Ensemble,” Carla Punch as “Grandma/Ensemble,” Michael Asberry as “Father/Ensemble,” David Diggs as “Flow/Ensemble,” and new comers to LHT Britney Frazier as “Stephie/Ensemble” and Rudy Guerrero as Hervé/Guy/Ensemble.”

Directed by Ellen Sebastian Chang with a wonderful set design, by Lisa Clark, whose work was elegant simplicity and a great original soundtrack and sound design by David Molina, not to mention again “Undine’s” wardrobe which was as sharp as her character, even as she declined (smile).

Fabulation, or the Re-education of Undine is so Stanley Williams/Quentin Easter! I kept seeing them—at the reception afterward and even at Steve’s party. I even saw Stanley helping someone to his seat in the theatre as the curtain was about to go up.

In the lobby I saw Quentin at the box office handing out tickets and I know they would have loved the Fabulation Boutique where one can purchase “theatre pops,” which Steve demonstrated: chocolate on the outside and red velvet in the middle—my girlfriend bought three at intermission –two for herself and one for her boyfriend (smile). “I love chocolate,” she stated as she pondered whether she could even part with one when she got home.

The boutique was closed at the end of the show—darn it! I’d planned to purchase a few myself. Oh well, next time (smile). When the new artistic director, Steven Anthony Jones introduced the Lynn Nottage’s play, Fabulation, or the Re-education of Undine, up through March 27, I recalled Stanley’s spiel re: candy wrappers—the introduction of a theatre pop was so LHT fitting and the dramatic flare-- Steve gave a great commercial if I ever saw one, that and the $30 30th Season Special. Visit for more details.

If folks are going to sneak in candy, why not sell them some and make the profit? Looks like a tootsie roll and there the analogy ends –period.

The Southside Theatre at Ft. Mason Center, Lorraine Hansberry Theatre’s temporary home, of all the LHT mobile homes over the past 2-3 years, since the Art Academy bought the Sheehan Hotel and thus began the saga that some feel precipitated the founderes demise— Ft. Mason feels like home.

Homelessness is not an easy space and the two men continued season after season in the PGE auditorium, in collaborations with SF Playhouse, not to mention its collaborations with ACT and Berkeley Rep, until finding a permanent home on Bush in 2009 near its old haunt.

For those who are familiar with LHT, especially the space where the theatre had its longest tenure, Ft. Mason’s Southside Theatre, Bldg. D, feels like a homecoming of sorts, which fits the theme of the season’s closing play—“Fabulation or The Re-education of Undine.”

Undine is what one would call a self-made woman, like Adam minus the rib—she didn’t even need Zeus. One might say if one is looking for analogies, she was an immaculate conception minus the vessel—she just was, is? The only problem is when we meet Undine, who runs a successful advertising agency, her fortune takes a turn for the worse and she has to revisit the gene pool so to speak, that is, reexamine her values and reorder her life – set new priorities.

The girl is pregnant and Argentine hubby has taken the money and absconded. She moves quickly from Madison Avenue to name any project in or near Manhattan—are there any projects near Manhattan? Have they all been bulldozed? No, well try Brooklyn’s Walt Whitman Projects. Can you believe this? Disneyland East! I don’t know if Lynn Nottage made the development up or if it exists.

Undine's family which died in a fire—like Kali, survived and welcome the prodigal daughter home.

There's that word again.

Lynn Nottage knows her black families—we really are that forgiving. Kill us and we shake it off and let you have your old room back—WHAT?!

Undine, like many up and coming black professional woman, believes she has to recreate herself, or so she thinks to belong. What she finds out in her mandatory group meetings for former addicts is that those people she torched her family for were not her friends and that the person she became was not a person who would befriend her now that she was once again poor—

The ride is raucous as Undine descends into a hell of her own creation or was she in hell and her decent actually her saving grace? I think, it depends on how one looks at it. She is being investigated by the CIA, has no credit, goes to jail trying to buy heroin, is pregnant . . . can it get any worse?

Undine's unravelling is where the story starts, the ball in her court most of the time, yet she has forgotten how to serve.

I am just blown away by playwright Lynn Nottage’s heroines –these women are long on suffering—and when I went to see Fabulation, it was after seeing her Ruined at Berkeley Rep. What a different play, with similar themes—women having to re-imagine themselves. In both plays, it is not optional. Intimate Apparel another play, yet the same story—and as in all the stories these women lose themselves temporarily in a man.

What is the lesson her Ms. Nottage? As my mother told me when I was this woman—believe me I have been her over and over too many times (smile)—“he fooled you, honey.” Nottage’s characters, in this case Undine, is not a fool, “fooled yes,” disillusioned and then enraged.

The same is true for Mama Nadi (actress Tonye Patano), whose small business in Eastern Congo shelters those “ruined” women whom society has discarded. Nottage’s women are vulnerable and as such are willingly and unwillingly taken advantage of. They are all older women who one would think should know better, but Nottage shows so well that the heart is not necessarily as mature as its surrounding organs—thus the saying, “young at heart.” Visit

I hadn’t realized that LHT at the Southside Theatre—references to Southside Chicago not withstanding (smile), at Ft. Mason Center, Bldg. D, also mounted Crumbs from the Table, which earned two NAACP awards, Fabulation, or the Re-education of Undine received an OBIE and Ruined the Pulizer Prize for Drama in 2009. Fabulation is the companion piece to Intimate Apparel, (Margo Hall told me Nottage the plywright wrote the two at the same time, Fabulation was for relief), which premiered February 2003 at Baltimore’s Center Stage, and is currently up at San Jose State University, opening Friday, March 11, 2011. Visit or call (415) 345-7575 for information about Fabulation or the Re-education of Undine and for information about Intimate Apparel up March 11-19, 2011 at University Theatre visit

If you missed the Ft. Southside theatre reference, Lorraine Hansberry was from Chicago, not its Southside, but the "Younger family" in Raisin in the Sun, hailed from that part of town.

Another interesting personal side note, besides seeing a play with a protagonist with the same name as my Aunt Undine, whom we called Auntie Teenie--she was petite, was the fact that in Intimate Apparel, the antithesis was played by a man from Panama, where my Aunt Undine's husband, Uncle Bennie, came from.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Saga Concludes: Free at Last

Ogun Used to Live on Granada Street in San Francisco

When I was a little girl the police came onto our property and my father ran them off with his hatchet. I remember him standing at the end of the driveway looking up the hill where the policemen ran.

I don’t know if we had Akbar and Batin then, maybe they were in the back chained up. In any event, the police came back and arrested Daddy.

Sister Elretha came to the house and took us to Daly City to stay with her while Daddy was in jail. I remember going to the jail to visit Daddy. We talked or I talked to him on the phone. He was behind a glass like Octavia was, only I could hear Daddy. I couldn’t hear Octavia.

Daddy had on a white shirt—looked like a t-shirt and slacks. I don’t remember chains. He didn’t smile and I remember being worried.

I felt worried when I left Octavia Sunday too and there was no one with me. Maybe because I am not a minor, everyone thought I’d be okay. I thought so too.

But I am not. Seeing a family member auctioned off and sold, is not easy to digest or get over.

I am not having as many anxiety attacks today. I feel a little better, but I am not out of the woods, because I haven’t heard from Rahim and I don’t know if Octavia is out and safely home yet.

It is 9:32 PM. The judge said she’d be released between 7 and 9 PM Grandmother said sometimes they don’t release them until 12 midnight. At that time the BART has stopped and probably the buses. It’s cold and rainy tonight too.

It is one thing visiting people you don’t know, it is an entirely different situation seeing your sister or father behind bars. You try to conduct yourself as if it is business as usual but in your mind there they are—it’s like you are visiting someone on a slave plantation and you have to leave them there because you haven’t earned enough money to purchase their freedom yet.

It is even harder to concentrate and stay calm when their freedom papers were stolen and you have to prove they are really free not slave/ innocent not guilty.

Since when is taking photographs illegal? Police take photos at rallies and protests marches—what’s the deal with that, if Octavia gets thrown in the county jail for doing the same thing?

How much does freedom cost—in Octavia’s case silence. She has been told to put up her sign and get off the picket line.

I remember after one of Bush’s stolen elections in order to ride BART we had to throw away our signs, otherwise the BART police wouldn’t let us in the station at 16th Street. They stopped one person because they didn’t like his shirt.

Octavia was noisy. She would not let the criminals in uniform rest in peace; she rattled their cage and said—you killed my son and I will not be silenced—

In her 60s Afro-wig she raised her fist and would not stand down, so those suckers tried to scare her into her grave with threats they made good on. In a post-9/11 world predators have licenses to hunt and kill wild game.

She was noisy; they were quiet; stealth, and good at hunting vulnerable prey. They crept up on my sister and as my dad would say shocked the sh—out of her. We are going to have to take this battle underground.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Tabia African American Theatre Ensemble presents: Jar the Floor

Last night I attended Tabia African-American Theatre Ensemble's 25th Anniversary celebratory production of Cheryl West's Jar the Floor. Directed by theatre veteran Buddy Butler, the cast, all women, their character's ranging from mid-late twenties to ninety, took the audience on a tour de force, which though never lighthearted, was filled just enough with lifesaving laughter.

What a juxtaposition of contradictions, but then isn't that life for all of us to some degree?

I would hope we intend to do better than our parents, yet darn it, it's certainly difficult even intentionally to move away from that apple tree, the one mama shook. Its sweetness draws us even when we recall the illusions the bitter taste, the rot and the worms.

We fall down with the hopes of getting up and moving on to greener and more fertile pastures.

Jar the Floor shows how for most of us, especially these women, that is a pipe dream. Actresses Sharon Moore as MaDear, the matriarch we meet at her 90th birthday celebration, is trapped in a nightmare. We don't meet the cast until Act 2.

When we meet MaDear she is watching her soaps and in her participatory excitement wakes her granddaughter, MayDee (C. Kelly Wright), who is also expectant this day. The university is going to call to let her know if she has tenure.

Already nerves are on edge, what could possibly push the envelop closer to the edge in this household? Well, in walks Lola, MayDee's mom, who dresses and looks a lot younger than her conservative daughter.

Anntoinette Johnson's "Lola" loves to dance and have fun. She and "MaDear" don't exchange a civil word even though Lola takes care of her mother while MayDee works. Lola seems to pitch hit for her daughter on a lot of levels, MayDee's escape her career. Perhaps we should throw "guilt" into the mix. Career moms, women who want it all, family and career, but can't find both so they settle for one or the other. In MayDee's case, career wins, motherhood loses.

It is interesting to watch the women interact--they all love and hate one another, not to mention have this deep seated resentfulness towards each other that spills over and spoils any kind of authentic or potentially loving relationships in the future.

Should we add "jealousy" to the boiling pot as well?

West uses several devises to illicit honest responses from the three older women, who not surprisingly are all carrying secrets too--

Some of these secrets haunt MaDear who lives at times in the past--her memories haunting her, while Lola is still the chastened unhappy child when she is with her mother, MaDear.

No there are no happy endings here, the seams a little to raggedy to trim neatly with pinking shears, but when we leave the women literally Jarring the Floor, we can see a brighter more open and honest place for each of them in one another's hearts.

Vennie, the great-granddaughter and her friend Raisa (Lacey Sullivan), are the free radicals which push the other elements into corners where all they can do is square off the fight-in this case, for their lives.

Actress Natasha Noel, Bay Area audiences might remember her as the wicked stepmother in the African American Shakespeare Company's seasonal production of Cinderella, has a knack for making people own their stuff, even if her characters refuse to own their own (smile). However, in Jar the Floor, even Vennie, comes clean in the end--they all do.

And then there is Vennie's friend, "Raisa," a white girl who meets Vennie at a club, where Vennie sings. The two outsiders befriend one another--Raisa has had a mastectomy and is trying to not allow the external scar to scar her inside. She and MaDear have a great moment in the second act.

Jar the Floor has these deep moments; it also has light ones. One wonders what MaDear remembers and what she intentionally forgets. Pain is like that, either one rubs salt into the burn or one lets the air get to it so it can heal. . . . Part of the journey in Jar the Floor is getting to the point where each woman can speak, listen, forgive and let go.

That Sankofa concept is one that permeates African Diaspora culture even when one doesn't acknowledge or name it--goes to show all how culture is innate and even 500 years of separation cannot separate one from something that is ours to begin with.

I highly recommend Jar the Floor; it is perfect for adults, men and women, especially multi-generational parties. For twenty-five years TAATE as a part of the San Jose Multicultural Artists Guild, Inc., has kept the torch burning --and for that guiding light, we thank them and wish the company twenty-five plus more (smile).

I hadn't known the term: Jar the Floor. It just means dance, stomp on the floor, cut the rug.

Shows are 8 PM tonight and 3 PM tomorrow, March 5 and 6 respectively. The lovely theatre is located in the Mexican Heritage Plaza Pavilion, 1700 Alum Rock Avenue, San Jose, CA, 11 AM to 3 PM. For tickets call (408) 272-9924 or on-line at

After the performance I took photos of cast and others connected to the performance, friends and family and mentors, like Ms. Vachye Hardeman, whom Sharon Moore, "MaDear" said inspired her in her character development.

Pictured are C. Kelly Wright, Sharon Moore, Ms. Hardeman, with cast and with her friends, Gloria Alexander and Eunice Portwood. I also took a photo of Ms. Whye and Professor Darryl Jones who is the director of Musical Theatre at Cal State East Bay--he filled me in with wonderful background information about the play and playwright, who was a literary toast of the town in the '60s and '70s, known for Puddin n' Pete, Before It Hits Home, which earned the writer the 1992 Helen Hayes Charles MacArthur Award for outstanding play and the 1990 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Another play was adapted for screen, Holiday Heart.

I also take a photo of Cheryl B Scales, jazz vocalist, actress and for this production, Assistant Stage Manager. I remembered her from Cultural Odyssey's production of August Wilson's Women, a tribute piece Rhodessa Jones wrote when Wilson passed. I have also seen her in the Medea Project Theatre for Incarcerated Women's My Life in the Concrete Jungle. You can see her next week as a part of Maiko Women's Drum & Poetry Ensemble;s 10th Girlfriend Appreciation Day, Saturday, March 19, 2011, at the Mexican Heritage Plaza Pavilion, 1700 Alum Rock Avenue, San Jose, CA, 11 AM to 3 PM. For tickets call (408) 272-9924 or on-line at

Octavia Edwards under arrest

My sister Octavia Edwards was picked up by the Oakland Police and charged with harassment, from what I understand, a couple of days ago (Thursday afternoon). When I opened an email from a good friend of hers, it was to tell me that Octavia was in the hospital suffering from chest pains. Octavia has a history of angina, so the police took her to Summit Hospital where she spent the night and after tests were completed, she was released late afternoon the following day, Friday.

Now I don't know where she is. Octavia told me on the phone from the hospital she would be taken to Santa Rita for booking, but I haven't heard anything definitive.

When I called the hospital early morning Friday Octavia was asleep. I'd just returned from Berkeley Rep where I'd seen Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize winning play, Ruined--a meditation on rape and war and memory and value--the value society places on women's lives.

The parallel here is the value of certain lives over others. The use of rape in war is a juxtaposition of shame and hurt. When a woman is raped it brings shame on her community, starting with her family, so to hurt a woman is to effectively wipe a people off the planet. Rape is often more effective than murder--

Ruined women are in a space where they have no home--pariahs, they are in limbo like souls floating between heaven and hell. In the play, Mama Nadi (actress Tonye Patano) carves out a space for ruined women, a place where they are safe and independent and have a camaraderie not found in their former homes, homes they are ostracized from.

My two brothers went to the hospital separately and neither could visit Octavia. There was a police guard in front of the curtained off doorway. Ronnie said Octavia had been taken to the lab for tests when he arrived. I think Rahim saw her in the room. She didn't see him.

I guess phone calls to her were stopped, because, Octavia's elder sister called and couldn't get through.

I must have been lucky.

The plan is to find her, I am getting nervous. I am taking kava kava and eating oatmeal, in lieu of oatmeal drops for my nerves which are jumpy. How does the prison system keep an angina patient alive when the very idea of prisons is stressful, especially when the ones who have locked you up killed your son and have the other one under lock and key as well?

Now the entire family is behind bars. Octavia visited her younger son on Saturdays. Who is going to let him know what's wrong?

How could Octavia harass the police? What could she do to them that would warrant her arrest?

Stay tuned.

Okay, day two, later on.

I speak to my brother-in-law, Rahim who finds out where Octavia is and what the charge is. Sounds like the SF 8 case. She is being held without bond on a charge that was dismissed. Someone stole her ID and committed a crime in 2008 or 9.

Day 3

I made an appointment yesterday to see Octavia this afternoon. I've never been to Santa Rita before. I used to work in Pleasanton and remember the old army barrack-type facility that used to house county prisoners. The new prison is not far from the old, you just can't see it from 1-580, but my GPS got me there exactly half an hour before my appointment. I was so nervous.

She told me later that she didn't know who was visiting or that she had a visitor prior to my arrival.

I wore all black and when I arrived almost everyone there waiting outside had on blue jeans. I was shocked. All the state prisons prohibit jeans. When my daughter asked me later what her Aunt Octavia was wearing, I couldn't remember. I just know it wasn't orange or red or anything bright.

People took in ink pens to jot down notes and it wasn't a contact visit. I spoke to Octavia through this circular ventilation-type metal covered hole in the Plexiglas. We couldn't sit on the stools, not if we wanted to hear. We leaned on the counter with our ears plastered to the hole alternating speaking and listening.

When I asked the guard as we left what happened to phones. He replied, I only work here. I am paying his salary and my tax dollars were used to build this facility--so I should have a say in its efficiency--not that I am advocating for better prisons, but what is the point of a visit if one cannot communicate effectively.

The remedy isn't high tech. Put in phones. There was no privacy, but none of us had time to listen or pay attention to anyone else, we were too busy shouting through the circular metal opening.

I didn't know what to expect, so I took one dollar bills for snacks and thought I could stay until 5 PM. Nope. I had half an hour. I arrived at 11:30 AM and I was back in my car in the parking lot at 1 PM. I even had time to use the bathroom twice and put money on Octavia's books--the money I couldn't spend on her in the visit.

The killer (I use this word loosely and intentionally) was she won't get the money until Tuesday. I hope she doesn't have an emergency. Crazy. Deposit the money Sunday and the person doesn't get it for two days.

Personal Dilemma
Should I cancel classes and go to the hearing? I can't find anyone to proctor an exam which my students and I agreed to postpone from last week to Monday. I wish I could cancel. I have never been to anyone's preliminary hearing before except the one for the brothers in the SF8 case, which Francisco Torres is still being prosecuted on. Imagine, Tuesday, March 8, is the 100 Anniversary of International Women's Day and my sister is behind bars.

I digress. Easy when one is waiting and waiting and has no control over anything. But the wait is the least of my worries. Traveling to Africa and being in Africa has made me extremely patient. It could be a lot worse. In Africa a lot of time, after a long wait, one might be told to return the next day to an even longer wait. Bureaucracy is an international phenomena and when people are in charge of one's life or one's loved one's life, they push those on the outside sometimes just becasue they can.

Back at Santa Rita
As I waited for the guard to get our names and the names of the person we wanted to visit, I looked down the long hall and thought about how narrow the hall was and again my thoughts returned to Hollywood and the films about long walks and heaven and hell and limbo. Hades must be like this--a long walk with stops along the way just as bad as the destination too far away to see clearly. I wondered what was behind the doors: 21, 22, 23, 24. There was no number for 25, but we were at the opposite end of the plank and there was no where else to go.

Octavia looked well, despite the fact that the prison wasn't following the physician's at Summitt hospitals instructions correctly. When we parted she said she was going to get her blood pressure taken and make an appointment to see a nurse.

I remember Octavia telling stories of times in the past when she slept on cell floors--cold cell floors. I don't know what facility, but I hope it wasn't this one. Now she is a full-time college student, doing well, about to graduate. Just moved out of transitional housing and found a two bedroom apartment in a safe neighborhood, and then this happens.

It reminds me of an old practice in New Orleans, where police would conduct sweeps. They would arrest black men without proof of employment or other necessary identification and hold them without charges just long enough for them to lose their jobs and be guilty of vagrancy. The police would also use this unlikely and reluctant pool to fish for suspects in unsolved crimes. Many men ended up behind bars indefinitely serving time for crimes they did not commit.

I met a young man who was visiting his girl friend this afternoon; he'd arrived for his appointment at 8 AM. He'd never been inside a prison before and said he didn't like the experience. He girl is getting out in two months and he told her he couldn't get used to this. I found it uncanny that his father was behind bars too, had been his entire life. He had been raised by an aunt who didn't share his father's letters with him as a child or take him to visit his father. As an adult he has written his father and seen photos, but never visited him.

He must love his girlfriend.

Octavia has a court hearing Monday morning at 9 AM, Department 111 at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse, 661 Washington Street at Seventh Street in Oakland.

I don't see why the judge doesn't throw out the case. She was found innocent. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Movendo con Capoeira (work in progress) choreographed by Tania Santiago

Choreographers from BCFH&N closing weekend, closing performance: Dancer & Musician: Mestre Cafu pictured last. He is also pictured with Amara Tabor Smith; Movendo con Capoeira (work in progress) choreographer Tania Santiago with son and with choreographer Jasmine Donaldson; two soloists from Tania's work are also pictured. I think that is everyone, and lastly, there is a photo of public art on 24th Street I saw walking towards Van Ness in San Francisco. Malcolm X on my mind, I photographed the work.

Emergence (2005) choreographer/performer: Jetta Martin

Others pictured are: Nanette Ada cast, choreographed by Jamie Ray Wright, Erik Lee pictured with Chris Evans

Black Choreographers Here and Now Closing Concert Photos

Erik Lee in Michael Velez's Untitled Work. Michael and Erik. Zari Le'on and Eurydice Ross and Jetta Martin.