Saturday, May 31, 2014

Chasing Mehserle, A Review by Wanda Sabir

Chanaka Hodge's Chasing Mehserle, directed by Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Sean San Jose, continues the story of Watts and his mom, Willie, whom we meet in Mirrors in Every Corner, Hodge's first major play, also staged at Intersection for the Arts.

The theatre was full, those in the audience thankful to Z-Space for the extended run there. Hodge's work was new to a lot of audience members, so they'd almost missed an opportunity to see the play since the run at Intersection closed May 8-24, a week earlier.

Chasing Mehserle is not about Oscar Grant, actor Michael Wayne Turner III's "Watts" clearly states during his lengthy prologue. Articulate and well read, Watts, as in brilliant, so brilliant his insight is blinding--he reminds me of James Baldwin, whom he reads. Baldwin was also brilliant. He also could not live in this country, so he left it never to return except to visit. Watts, unfortunately, cannot escape so he draws and studies maps; perhaps he is looking for a space within his world to occupy without fear. In the meantime, he has lived inside his house for 17 years.

It isn't safe for a black boy to leave home, so he reads and reflects and surfs the web and drives Willie, his mom a bit crazy.

This is hip hop theatre which opens with the chorus -- four actors seated on the stairs in the aisles talking back to Watts (on stage) in disbelief or affirmation as the prologue unfurls.

A kid just out of juvenile and looking for a job gets drafted as Watt's alter-ego narrator with an opinion. Puck (actor Danez Smith), is as magical as his namesake in Midsummer Nights. He knows he is imagined, but then, so are the caricatures dangling from the mouths of police who shoot black boys like Oscar Grant dead. This does not stop him from arguing with the protagonist as he pulls him out of harms way more than once or corrects Watts's linguistic choices, often losing himself in reverie or contemplation.

Rodney King drives Watts inside and Mehserle opens the door. Something about the story touches him, opens a layer of his black psyche that traps him and won't let him go. He has to speak to Mehserle, he has to interview everyone who knew the BART police officer who killed Grant. He obsesses about Mehserle. The chase gives his life tangible meaning--perhaps Watt's crusade allows his ideas to crystallize around something tangible.

All of a sudden he can leave the house, go downtown where he last visited when he was a kid with his mom and siblings, shopping for school uniforms. The happy memory recalls yet another incident when Watts was afraid. A moment of camaraderie with a stranger shifts quickly into confrontation when Watts pretends to be hard and is almost killed.

With a plan not quite thought through, Watts is picked up by a rich white boy looking for adventure at a Grant protest. The years tick by as trial leads to acquittal. The scenic design includes juxtaposition of Grant's final moments on the platform to flowers from blood red to white. The only physical set a stair riser with a space below where Watts and his roommate share. It is a porch, a bedroom and entrance to the house Willie (actress Halili Knox) holds onto with a thread.

Watts lives in West Oakland, Oakland, sun in his universe, a place where he sees young men like himself venture out and never return. One young man has been shot six, seven, eight times, the cast laughs--the man can't seem to die. But what a life. Is life any better for those who venture out? Do we blame Watts for staying in doors?

In James Baldwin's seminal The Fire Next Time is a theme running through Searching for Mehserle who is not condemned, just questioned on the social circumstances that allow killers to walk free. What are the residuals behind such an act on the other Oscars? What precedence does judicial sanction set for boys like Watts for the Highway Patrol Officer who stops Watts as he speeds down Highway 5 to LA for Mehserle's trial?

When he is pulled over, Watts whose knowledge of police brutality is intellectual, tastes fear and as he speaks the hand holding the gun doesn't waver. The position he assumes is automatic throughout the play black boys like Watts are lying prostrate--falling prostrate as one by one they are accosted or eliminated. The lines blur as reality and Watts internal narrative become one and the same scene. The difficulty of black manhood is illustrated often as these children raised by mothers like Willie do not see themselves with a future let alone a life.

At some point Watts's crazy idea to find Mehserle and kill him, which is as fantastic as the idea that he will find him and speak to him, gains credibility and his mother joins him in this quest. Eye witnesses to this Grant's assassination share the horror --their voices trembling with the memory they cannot erase. That this happens on President Obama's watch is insulting a foreshadowing of his presidency, one wrought with the deaths or other  black boys like Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, black women and other incidents on BART as recent as less than a month ago when Nubia Bowe is accosted, beaten and arrested, March 21, 2014. Her arraignment is Monday, May 19, 2014, ironincally Malcolm X's birthday. It is also the day that a rally and lobby day is called by All of Us or None and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and others at the Sacramento State Capitol.

I do not know what the outcome was for her case which has a court date in early August. Charges should be dropped, all Nubia did was question the police officers on their treatment of the men she was traveling with, who were not dancing and soliciting money on BART, and for her query she is pulled off the train at Lake Merritt station arrested and beaten, taken into custody and then beaten again. Her arrest eliminated her ability to get a job in her chosen profession.

As Watt's says "this story is larger than Oscar Grant." He's right. The systemic criminalization of black skin in young male (and often) female bodies, holds these victims captive. It didn't matter that witnesses on the train stated that Nubia and her male friends were not dancing or soliciting money. It did not matter that Nubia nor Watts had no prior convictions.

It did not matter when in Watt's case Lyle (actor Dan Wolf), the car thief, confessed; the highway patrol officer looked at actor Lyles's white skin, dismissed his guilt and took Watts away to jail where the young man said later he had to strip nude and suffer other indignities.

While Watts is in jail Lyle (Chasing Mehserle) is put up in a Holiday Inn at the LA county taxpayer's expense. The Mehserle trial just happens to be concluding; Watts and the object of his chase in the same facility.  It is at this moment Mehserle give his "I'm sorry speech." Obviously prompted by legal and political opportunism, the confession rings false and comes way too late to listening ears . . . Oscar's duppies or errant ghosts, the walking dead and those being prepped for the gauntlet.  

Nubia speaks of similar indignities and brutality. She was chained and put bleeding in a straight jacket which limited her mobility. Instead of allowing her to at least sit upright, the police constrained her and then tipped her over into a puddle of urine on the floor. A spit bag kept her from asphyxiating:

The ending is as haunting as the tale which is not over as the cast assures the audience that it is still alive . . . the question is, for how long?

Bravo Chanaka Hodge for another episode in this American tragedy. Chasing Mehserle is at Z-Space, 450 Florida Street, in San Francisco through May 31, 8 p.m. It is sold out, but one never knows. . . .

Friday, May 30, 2014

Wanda's Picks Radio Show Friday, May 30, 2014

Our first guest is Joy Elan, poet, writer, activist, from Oakland and Berkeley, CA. She received her undergraduate degree in African American Studies at UC Berkeley and her graduate degree in Education at Stanford University. She has taught at a community college and is currently working with urban youth in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Next we speak to Nicholas Bearde, singer, and Perry L. Lang, Executive Director of Black Coalition on AIDS and Rafiki Wellness about their collaboration this Sunday, June 1, in a new concert series at Rafiki Wellness Center, 601 Cesar Chavez Street, San Francisco, and 

Julia Chigamba
and DeLisa Branch-Nealy join us for an encore conversation about Chinyakare's recent performance in Washington DC and the company's upcoming show next week, June, 7, 2014, 9 p.m., at Ashkanaz Music and Dance Center in Berkeley.

We close with First Edition lead musician Damu Sudii Alii and his son, Jabari Alii, featured guest this weekend at an encore performance at thr 57th Street Gallery in Oakland, Sat., May 31, 2014, 8:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Tickets $15. and

Link to show:

When Wells Run Dry: A Review of Christina Anderson’s pen/man/ship by Wanda Sabir

Perhaps it’s not a good idea to jump on a ship whose destination one is uncertain? Unfortunately for Africans in the Diaspora, our ancestors were not given a choice, but the crew members, along with Ruby Heard and Jacob Boyd, volunteered for Charles Boyd’s mission—he an unscrupulous and unreliable navigator (read narrator) whose quest for power leads him to participate in another illegal transport, this time New Afrikans, in a reverse trade route, centered in economic gain just like that first 300 or so years earlier.
Playwright, Christina Anderson

Christina Anderson’s pen/man/ship which opened theatrically at the Magic Theatre late May and continues most fittingly into the Juneteenth season, is set on a ship in the middle of a Transatlantic horror in the late nineteenth century. Legal slavery is over, but echoes of the lash still haunt those aboard a ship headed for Liberia. No one except Sir Charles who hires the men and the ship, and later his son, Jacob Boyd, know the true reason for the trip—a reverse passage in more ways than one. 15 men are the crew and one woman who is leaving behind a country and a way of life—Southern and American which hinders her freedom, if not stifles it all together. She is on the run, but then so are most of those aboard the ship—Cecil, one of the crew, stands apart with his accordion—its wailing voice at times rivalling the sea.

Imagine a penal colony of black people where those found guilty are shipped off or away from family, friends and loved ones in America to Africa.

The whaling sets sail September-October 1896—Did Captain Ahab have to pawn his ship after the fiasco with Moby Dick? Was Charles Boyd the meal, his continued refusal to leave his room not arrogance, rather a whale’s indigestion? Maybe the continued biblical reference refers to Jonah? cast:
Eddie Ray Jackson, Tagela Large, Adrian Roberts, Tyee Tilghman

Why take the scenic route to Africa, when it is not the journey rather the destination which is the aim, or is it? Is this the reason why shrewd businessman, land surveyor, Sir Charles Boyd charters a ship which used sails rather than steam? Is this why he tosses his fate on the elements, especially Tempest? Does he believe he has the winning chip?

Wrapped in pride, actor Adrian Roberts’s character wears his tattered robe to glory as his ship sinks. What a fool. When he falls no one mourns him, his ship log where he dutifully keeps the only record of his thoughts, fails to solicit forgiveness or pity or even love for those he has wronged. Even at his most abhorrent, Robert’s character’s stoic acceptance of his solitude, no isolation, does nothing to arouse pity or compassion in the crew, his son, Jacob,  shipmate, Ruby or eventually Cedric, his one friend. Perhaps this is why he keeps the log; there he can revise the truth until it fits its quarters.

Why are we unmoved by any of the man’s tribulations, when he has much to pity in his life: his recent loss of his wife, his weak and spineless son, Jacob, plus his fear of the journey to Africa, despite his bravado? Is it in the way Robert’s portrays him that leaves us so cold?  

Charles’s continued alcoholic stupor buoys his temper and seeming grasp of the wheel, when with each inebriated Sunday service his grip on the fragile spiritual mirage he maintains steadily vanishes.  
In a powerful scene when Cecil pour out Charles’s last bottle of rum, the drunken man licks his hands as he wipes the liquor from the bench, yet leaves a huge puddle of gin undisturbed on the floor . . .  Are we to believe his arrogance keeps him from taking this step into our waiting hearts? Okay, I thought to myself, get on your knees Charles and lick the floor, but he let all the beverage sink into the floorboards while withdrawal symptoms made his body begin to tremble as he hallucinated.  A true drunk, a man who has been drinking for 20 years each evening would have wallowed and thus earned my favor. At a certain point, one’s body takes over and one cannot control one’s impulses.

Yes, Charles is the beast he abhors or calls his crew.

If there are tumultuous waves at sea, Charles is the ill wind that blows harm. Stuck between the pages of the bible, he reads the verses which fortify his position. He is not looking for truth, just absolution and grace—to receive, not to give.

Even when he stumbles bleeding from a chest wound inflicted on deck into his cabin one night in an earlier scene, the concern is for the man overboard, whom we hear is the youngest crew member, well-liked, a good boy now gone forever. Would that the man overboard been Charles, not Monty Samuels.

The voyage is intense and long, yet Charles remains unmoved—stoic and taciturn, he starts and ends his journey none the wiser. Perhaps it is his inebriated state that is the reason for this inappropriate response? It could also be the way pen/man/ship is directed or Charles is interpreted. Whatever the reason, the character shifts not in his perspective except on paper in his log—it is an intellectual change when what is needed is more blood and real pain— a lot happens on this journey, much of it avoidable if not for Charles’s presence.

Charles is a stiff, inflexible man, whose ideas about women, men and blackness are already decided when he boards the ship and keeps a distance between himself and the men, whom he sees beneath him. He stays in his cabin drinking and on Sundays reading select portions from the bible and singing hymns with his dutiful son. He finds Ruby’s questions and ideas contrary to his about religion and women her way to undermine his power.

Imagine a black crew traveling to Africa to establish a penal colony there for wayward Negros at home? Anderson’s writing is charged as Ruby and Jacob spar, he at times uncertain as to his allegiance—does he side with Dad or his girl? Is she really his girl?

Ruby belongs only to herself. Doubt her calling card, and with it she raises questions, heightens all encounters with a judicious clarity fitting her mounting role as mistress or siren of the sea. Tangela Large’s Ruby is riveting and powerful. She never trembles even when Charles stands imposingly over her and threatens to break her bodily. Her Ruby is a perfect match for Adrian Robert’s Charles Boyd.

Ruby is the fly that eludes the swatter. She buzzes and buzzes. Mysterious until almost the end, we wonder why she is on board with all these men headed for a place known only in the imagination—homeland, true for some, for others a place of danger, especially for a woman alone. What is her story? What made her appeal to Jacob to let her board his father’s ship?

Ruby is the linchpin that holds the board pieces in place or lets them scatter and fall. The men love her and she honors and respects their trust. She is flirtatious and wise, innocent and often indiscreet. She pushes Charles, then holds a mirror to this man he is not anxious to see.

The journey is an opportunity for Jacob to grow up and be a man, Ruby to find true freedom from fear, Cecil to know his beauty and Charles to come to grips with the man he has been running from for the past twenty years. In the capable hands of the cast, Ryan Guzzo’s direction and the skilled storytelling inherent in Pen/Man/Ship, each meet his or her goals.

Charles drinks to forget or perhaps he drinks to remember, or maybe the alcoholic stupor he lives in is how he survives the shipwreck. As the waves crash and the vessel is tossed –the natural elements find a parallel universe inside the characters.

I love plays which have at their center, strong black women and Christina Anderson’s Ruby,  a brilliant red jewel, is such. From the moment she joins the two men, Charles and Jacob at their Sunday ritual and invited to share a scripture, reinterprets it—to their horror; the gauntlet is drawn and the challenge taken up between the two stronger energies on this voyage.

Who will win, and at what cost? Is Charles, a land surveyor, willing to sacrifice all he has planned and kill them all? His refusal to speak to the men after the tragic death of the youngest shipmate or crew member, the men’s refusal to lift the sails until he does and Ruby’s appointment as spokesperson for them makes for a dicey plank both Jacob and Cecil tread, Jacob son and lover, Cecil crew member yet Jacob’s friend.

How will it all end? Will the great whale be captured or will it surrender?

When she first arrives on board, Ruby speaks of how the ship’s smell makes her ill. Jacob says it’s the whale blubber, blood and sweat.  Charles says the ship full of men is no place for a woman and wonders over the course of the journey about this woman’s audacity. How dare she think she is equal to him with as much right to express herself intellectually as he?!

Actor, Eddie Ray Jackson’s Jacob is the dutiful son and undecided boyfriend, trying to keep the peace. Tyee Tilghman’s Cecil with his accordion is perhaps the most interesting of the four characters with speaking roles on the ship—we hear about the captain and other mates, but they have no tangible presence in the story. Cecil like Jacob brings his loved one on board, his captured in the “box,” what he calls his accordion. Like a ventriloquist, he seems most articulate when communicating with it. It is the voice of his soul—it is when playing that he forgets himself and is truly beautiful.

Notions of civilization and beauty and black people, whom in a certain way Charles wants to escape or at least contain, Ruby is running toward, while Jacob stands immobile trapped by a deed committed in err that binds him to his father. I am not clear what he did exactly, visit a brothel? Whatever it was his father kept him from being charged and now he is aboard the ship to pay his debt which broke the family coffers, or so says his dad, Charles.

Jacob’s sentence is indeterminate; Ruby is also an escapee—running from a society that treats her people as less than human, only to face similar judgment aboard Charles’s ship.

When one enters the theatre, we are immediately thrust into the interior of the ship—in the bowels so to speak where the foul odors mingle with historic lineage and legacies, much unresolved.

Just beyond the confined spaced is a ladder leading to the deck—We hear laugher as the waves rise . . . silence at night as Charles walks the emptied floor above. Both Jacob and Ruby sleep within view, Charles’s cabin between theirs. Cecil bunks with 14 other men. The captain is also elsewhere.

Suddenly the deck appears in front of the audience as Jacob and Ruby speak to the men or Cecil serenades us with a song. There are provisions tucked under rafters, Jacob’s sketchbook where he draws pictures of the men and the bibles he and his father hide inside cubbyholes. When the play starts Charles stands on the deck light shining on him, his arms outstretched—is he king? At the end, this same light returns, yet a few elements have shifted, powerful elements. What does the closing light mean? Why is Charles still its centerpiece?

The Magic Theatre is located at Ft. Mason Center, 2 Marina Blvd., Building D, 3rd Floor, San Francisco. Call (415) 441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre,org The play runs, Tuesdays, June 3 and 10, 7 p.m., evenings Wednesdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. with weekend matinees on Sundays at 2:30 with a 7 p.m. show as well Sunday, June 1. Tickets are $20-60 with $5 off for seniors and educators. All student tickets are $20.

Free Performance in Oakland

There is a free performance at Laney College Theatre, 900 Fallon in Oakland, Tuesday, June 3, 2014, 1:30 p.m.

Virgin Play Series

The Magic is also presenting the 2014 Martha Heasley Cox Virgin Play Series on Monday nights (6/2 & 6/9, 7 p.m. at ACT’s Costume Shop). June 16, 6 p.m. Sojourners by Mfoniso Udofia is read at the Commonwealth Club of California, 595 Market Street (between 1st and 2nd); Montgomery BART Station. Visit

Listen to an interview with playwright Christina Anderson,
Starts around: 101.1 (title link too)

Listen to an interview with members of the cast in pen/man/ship:


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wanda's Picks Radio Show, May 28, 2014

From the Archives, Friday, May 16, 2014 we open with:

Michael Lange (director and actor, role: Hon. Elijah Muhammad) and Kreshenda Jenkins (Sister Betty X) join us to talk about Larry "Americ" Allen's The Expulsion of Malcolm X, opening March 23 at Laney College's Odell Johnson theatre in Oakland, directed by Michael Lange.

Michael Lange, actor, director and filmmaker, is best known for his portrayal as a Malcolm X delineator, having performed the fiery freedom fighter and orator’s speeches nationally on stage since early 1990. He has directed two award-winning plays, ‘Ceremonies in Dark Old Men’ (Best Play Award) and ‘The Old Settler’ (Best Director). As a playwright, he wrote the play ‘Prophet Nat’, a musical docudrama based on the life of slave-prophet Nat turner. Currently, he is on the faculty at San Jose State University, where he has taught since 1998. Lange continues to write and perform for stage and film, and lives in Oakland, California.

Kreshenda Jenkins (Sister Betty X), a thespian at heart, has always had a passion for performing arts.  She started acting on stage at the age of 15 and although she took a hiatus for some time she is back and ready to play her role as “Betty X” for a second time.

Our next guest is:

Beresford McLean
, author and playwright,
was born in western St. Mary, Jamaica. He attended and taught high school in Kingston. In 1970 McLean immigrated to the United States where he studied physics and subsequently worked in engineering. His current focus is writing. Broken Gourds, his first inspirational folklore, was published to great acclaim in 2003. His second novel, Providence Pond, came three years later. McLean’s third novel, Fish Hook River will be published in the spring of 2015. Beresford McLean’s foray into playwriting is his short play, First Snow. His first full length play The Good Villain will be released in fall 2014. His other unpublished works include Ode to Mali, Walking with Anancy - Book 1 (Jamaica), and Walking with Anancy Book - 2 (New York).

Friday, May 23, 2014

Wanda's Picks Radio Show Friday, May 23, 2014

We speak to Jubilith Moore, Director and Eugenie Chan, Dramaturg, about Chiori Miyagawa's world premiere, This Lingering Life at Theatre of Yugen in San Francisco at Z Space, 450 Florida Street, June 5-14, 2014.

Karin pumps milk at her teaching job in Breastmilk.

We then shift to a conversation with filmmaker Dana Ben-Ari about Breastmilk, her first feature length film which looks at a new political frontier involving women's bodies--breastfeeding. What happens after the baby arrives, right? How is nursing one's baby now a social hot potatoe in certain social circles where what is so natural is economically inconvenient and socially frowned on or if not frowned on, certainly not supported by institutions where women who want to work have to choose between nursing their children and having a career. The director is in town and will be at evening screening of her film at The Roxie where her film is opening today. It is also opening in Oakland at The New Parkway. Visit
Playwright, Laurinda D. Brown

Laurinda D. Brown, playwright and author joins us next to talk about her work, Walk Like a Man, directed by John Fisher, which is opening at Theatre Rhinoceros May 28-June 15, 2014 at The Costume Shop, 1117 Market Street (at 7th Street, Civic Center BART). For tickets visit or call 1-800-838-3006

We close with a conversation with Queen Regina Califa-Calloway about the 36th Annual SF Carnaval Celebration: May 23rd - 25th,, with free events beginning this evening (5/23) at the DeYoung Museum Brazilian Nights with SambaDA, 50 Hagiwara Tea Green Dr, SF, CA 6P-8:30P, followed by performances at 3 p.m. (5/24) on the Carnaval Stage (Harrison at 17th), and that evening at the Chapel w/La Gente, 777 Valencia St | Doors open: 8P Show: 9P Show. Oakland Carnival (5/26): Memorial Day-Mosswood Park, MacArthur and Broadway, 10:30 a.m.-6:00 p.m.

We close with music from New Orleans, Michele Jacques’s Madri Gras (Carnival).

Show Link

Friday, May 16, 2014

Wanda’s Picks Radio Show, Friday, May 16, 2014 8-10:59 a.m. PST

Michael Lange (director and actor, role: Hon. Elijah Muhammad) and Kreshenda Jenkins (Sister Betty X) join us to talk about Larry "Americ" Allen's The Expulsion of Malcolm X, opening March 23 at Laney College's Odell Johnson theatre in Oakland, directed by Michael Lange.

Michael Lange, actor, director and filmmaker, is best known for his portrayal as a Malcolm X delineator, having performed the fiery freedom fighter and orator’s speeches nationally on stage since early 1990. He has directed two award-winning plays, ‘Ceremonies in Dark Old Men’ (Best Play Award) and ‘The Old Settler’ (Best Director). As a playwright, he wrote the play ‘Prophet Nat’, a musical docudrama based on the life of slave-prophet Nat turner. Currently, he is on the faculty at San Jose State University, where he has taught since 1998. Lange continues to write and perform for stage and film, and lives in Oakland, California.

Kreshenda Jenkins (Sister Betty X), a thespian at heart, has always had a passion for performing arts.  She started acting on stage at the age of 15 and although she took a hiatus for some time she is back and ready to play her role as “Betty X” for a second time.

We close with a conversation with Rachel Caplan, Founder & Executive Director of the San Francisco Green Film Festival and Bill Morrison, director, The Great Flood, USA, 2013, 80 min, screens Sunday, June 1, at The Little Roxie and Leah Mahan, director, and Derrick Christopher Evans, subject in the film, Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek, USA, 2013, 56 min., screens Saturday, May 31, at the Roxie Theatre, followed by a panel discussion.

Laney College theatre 900 Fallon Street in Oakland. Lake Merritt BART
Friday May 23 @ 7:30 pm 
Saturday May 24 @ 7:30 
Thursday, May 29 @ 7:30
Friday, May 30 @ 7:30
Saturday, May 31 @ 2:30 matinee
Saturday, May 31 @ 7:30

Guest Bios:
Christina Anderson was the National New Play Network Playwright-in-Residence at Magic Theatre in 2011.  Her plays include DripHollow RootsBlacktop SkyInked Baby, and Man in Love. Her work has been produced by or developed with Steppenwolf Theater, Playwrights Horizon, Crowded Fire, American Conservatory Theatre, About Face Theatre, The Public Theater, Penumbra and other theaters all over the country. Awards and honors include the ASCAP Cole Porter Prize (Yale School of Drama), Schwarzman Legacy Scholarship awarded by Paula Vogel, Susan Smith Blackburn nomination, Lorraine Hansberry Award (American College Theater Festival), Van Lier Playwriting Fellowship (New Dramatists), Wasserstein Prize nomination (Dramatists Guild), Lucille Lortel Fellowship (Brown University). She is a Core Writer at the Playwrights’ Center, and American Theatre Magazine selected Anderson as one of fifteen up-and-coming artists “whose work will be transforming America’s stages for decades to come.” Born and raised in Kansas City, KS, she obtained her B.A. from Brown University and an M.F.A. from the Yale School of Drama’s Playwriting Program.
The Magic Theatre is delighted to celebrate the return of Magic’s 2011 Playwright in Residence, Christina Anderson, with the world premiere of PEN/MAN/SHIP. The production is directed by Magic Theatre’s Associate Artistic Director Ryan Guzzo Purcell and will run May 21 – June 15, 2014 at Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, Building D, 3rd Floor. 

For tickets call: 415-441-8822 or visit

Featured Guests: The 4th Annual San Francisco Green Festival, May 29-June 4

Rachel Caplan ~ Founder and Executive Director, San Francisco Green Film Festival, celebrating its fourth year; the SFGF returns May 29th through June 4th to showcase films and events that spotlight the world’s most urgent environmental issues and most innovative solutions, this year thematically connected to Water in the West.  See

Caplan is passionate about how environmentally-focused films & media can be used to engage the public in many different ways, through screenings, discussions, events, education programs, and online tools. In 2011, I launched the San Francisco Green Film Festival – to present forward-thinking programs of films and discussions that inspire collaborative environmental action. The Festival is also committed to working with corporate and non-profit partners to produce innovative pairings of film with other arts and green activities.

She has seventeen years experience in film exhibition and distribution including work for the Edinburgh, London and San Francisco International Film Festivals and as a film publicist with Intermedia and United International Pictures (handling international theatrical campaigns for Paramount, Universal, and DreamWorks). From 2007-2009, I was Festival Director for the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival, the first and largest showcase for ocean related films in North America. The vision for the Green Film Festival grew out of this work and to fill the need for a dynamic forum for sharing diverse environmental stories in the city that’s at the forefront of the global Green movement.

Caplan has a Masters degree in Cinema & Television Studies from the British Film Institute (BFI). I have been a voting member of BAFTA since 2000 and served as Board Treasurer for Bay Area Women in Film & Media 2008-2011. I’m most likely to be found in one of the city’s many excellent cinemas or parks. Follow @rachelsf.

Bill Morrison, (born in Chicago, November 17, 1965) is a New York-based filmmaker and artist, best known for his experimental collage film Decasia (2002). He is a member of Ridge Theater and the founder of Hypnotic Pictures. He attended Reed College 1983-85, and graduated from Cooper Union School of Art in 1989 (wikipedia).

The Great Flood, dir. Bill Morrison, USA, 2013, 80 min, screens Sunday, June 1, at The Little Roxie

“The Mississippi River Flood of 1927 was the most destructive river flood in American history. In the spring of 1927, the river broke out of its earthen embankments in 145 places and inundated 27,000 square miles. Part of its legacy was the forced exodus of displaced sharecroppers, who left plantation life and migrated to Northern cities, adapting to an industrial society with its own set of challenges.

“Musically, the Great Migration fueled the evolution of acoustic blues to electric blues bands that thrived in cities like Memphis, Detroit and Chicago becoming the wellspring for R&B and rock as well as developing jazz styles.

“THE GREAT FLOOD is a collaboration between filmmaker and multimedia artist Bill Morrison and guitarist and composer Bill Frisell inspired by the 1927 catastrophe. “In the spring of 2011, as the Mississippi River was again flooding to levels not seen since 1927, Frisell, Morrison, and the band traveled together from New Orleans, through Vicksburg, Clarksdale, Memphis, Davenport, Iowa, St. Louis and on up to Chicago.

“For the film, Morrison scoured film archives, including the Fox Movietone Newsfilm Library and the National archives, for footage of the Mississippi River Flood. All film documenting this catastrophe was shot on volatile nitrate stock, and what footage remains is pock marked and partially deteriorated. The degraded filmstock figures prominently in Morrison's aesthetic with distorted images suggesting different planes of reality in the story-those lived, dreamt, or remembered.

“For the score, Frisell has drawn upon his wide musical palette informed by elements of American roots music, but refracted through his uniquely evocative approach that highlights essential qualities of his thematic focus. Playing guitar, Frisell is joined by Tony Scherr on bass, Kenny Wollesen on drums and Ron Miles on trumpet” (

Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek
Derrick Evans (subject)
Derrick Christopher Evans is a sixth-generation native of coastal Mississippi’s historic African-American community of Turkey Creek, founded in 1866. He earned his bachelor's and master’s degrees from Boston College, where he taught civil rights history as an adjunct professor from 1992 to 2005. Evans also taught middle-school American history and social studies in the Boston public school system from 1991 to 2001 and taught history and African-American studies at Roxbury Community College. In 1997, Evans co-founded Epiphany School, a full-service and tuition-free independent middle school for low-income children and families from Boston neighborhoods.

Evans is the co-founder of the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health, which directs financial, technical and collegial support to grassroots community groups addressing the region’s challenges of poverty, racism, gender inequality and environmental destruction. He is also the co-founder of Turkey Creek Community Initiatives, which works to conserve and restore the culture and ecology of the Turkey Creek community and watershed.

In 2010, Evans worked with filmmaker Leah Mahan and the Gulf Coast Fund to launch BRIDGE THE GULF, an interactive Web-based platform for community advocates, journalists and storytellers. Evans' efforts to protect Turkey Creek are told in Mahan's documentary Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek.

Leah Mahan (director)
Leah’s film Sweet Old Song (2002) was featured on the PBS series P.O.V. and was selected by film critic Roger Ebert to be screened at his Overlooked Film Festival (“Ebertfest”). The film tells the story of Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong, an old-time string band musician who undertakes a bittersweet journey with the woman he loves. In 2013 she completed Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek, about a group of determined Mississippians who struggle to save their endangered Gulf Coast community in the face of rampant development, industrial pollution and disaster. She worked with Gulf Coast NGOs to develop a related community journalism project titled BRIDGE THE GULF. Leah began her career as a research assistant for filmmaker Henry Hampton on the groundbreaking PBS series on the civil rights movement Eyes on the Prize. A sequel to her first film, Holding Ground: The Rebirth of Dudley Street (1996), was completed in 2013. The films tell the story of a vibrant community organization that transforms a devastated Boston neighborhood through grassroots organizing.

Leah’s work has been supported by the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund, Independent Television Service, Ford Foundation and W.K. Kellogg Foundation. She holds a BA in anthropology from Cornell University and an MFA in Cinema from San Francisco State University. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and their two children.

Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek, dir. Leah Mahan, USA, 2013, 56 min., screens Saturday, May 31, at the Roxie Theatre, followed by a panel discussion
Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek follows the painful but inspiring journey of Derrick Evans, a Boston teacher who returns to his native coastal Mississippi when the graves of his ancestors are bulldozed to make way for the sprawling city of Gulfport. Derrick is consumed by the effort to protect the community his great grandfather’s grandfather settled as a former slave. He is on the verge of a breakthrough when Hurricane Katrina strikes the Gulf Coast. After years of restoration work to bring Turkey Creek back from the brink of death, the community gains significant federal support for cultural and ecological preservation. Derrick plans to return to Boston to rebuild the life he abandoned, but another disaster seals his fate as a reluctant activist. On the day Turkey Creek is featured in USA Today for the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, the Deepwater Horizon rig explodes.

SFGFFThe festival is excited to have the Roxie Theater in San Francisco as a new venue for its programming. The Opening Night Reception and Premiere will be at the Aquarium of the Bay, on the Embarcadero, to launch this year’s Festival theme: Water in the West. Additional films will be at the Koret Auditorium at the San Francisco Public Library Main Branch on 100 Larkin Street. For tickets and information please visit, email, or call 415-552-5580415-552-5580.

Show link:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Libations for the Ancestors June 14, 2014

The Annual San Francisco Bay Area Libations for the Ancestors is Saturday, June 14, 2014, 9 AM at the Fountain at Lake Merritt (juxtaposed with Merritt Bakery and the tennis courts). It is an International Libation, everyone is pouring at the same time, which means we start exactly at 9 AM PST.

2012 marked the 25th Anniversary of the Libations Ceremony. What is significant about this day is that throughout the world African ancestors are being revered simultaneously. In Pacific time zone, that means we are pouring at 9 AM sharp. In Central or Mountain time, 11 AM sharp and Atlantic or Eastern time zone it is 12 noon sharp!

In other parts of the world our morning will be their evening, but we'll all be in the same day (smile). Though community is important, especially for African people, if you are not able to get to a gathering or cannot host one of your own or are on the move, stop at the designated time and pour libations on the roadside, if necessary. . . . Join us in spirit and at the least pour thanks from your heart then, now and forever more.

2013 in the African Diaspora in the Americas and beyond in Charleston and Georgetown, SC, Hampton, Virginia, Seattle, WA, St, Croix, Virgin Islands, Oakland, CA, Long Island, NY, Portobelo, Panama, West Indies, Cape Coast, Ghana, and Brooklyn, New York, Atlanta, Georgia, and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia--Pan African people lifted the names of ancestors who made the journey across the Atlantic and those who died aboard those slave ships and those who returned home (as was the case in Ethiopia that year for Wanda Sabir).

Stop what you are doing Saturday, June 14, 2014 at 9 a.m. PST and pour libations for our African ancestors who were taken against their will from Mother Africa. Ask them for strength and endurance. Freedom is a constant struggle. For those who'd like to pour libations in unity. Join us at 8:30 a.m. We will pour precisely at 9 AM. Bring your drums and other percussion instruments to celebrate our ancestors' lives. Bring flowers, breakfast pastry and fruit to share. It is traditional to wear white, but for those who know me...bring yourself, it's what's inside that counts.

Feel the power of that moment as we recall their greatness of spirit and give thanks. Ashay!

In Oakland we met at the fountain at Lake Merritt, across from the Merritt Bakery where the fountain is: E-18th Street at Lakeshore Drive. We can meet there again this year. It is a nice spot, easy to locate and wheelchair accessible.

This is our seventh or eighth year participating in the international remembrance of the African ancestors who were bought and sold during the European slave trade. This is also an opportunity to reflect on those subsequent ancestors like Mama Tubman and Baba Denmark Vesey, and ancestors elsewhere in the African Diaspora. It is, a prayer for our survival and an opportunity to greet and support one another in this important work: healing from enslavement: socially, politically, and economically. It is also an opportunity to reclaim our personal and collective power, plus long overdue justice and equality.

Later that day in Oakland, there is a Juneteenth Festival at 11 AM, also at Lake Merritt.

Visit for information. Email is at

Saturday, May 10, 2014

African American Shakes presents William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, directed by L. Peter Callender (Assistant director, Donna Simone Johnson) at the Buriel Clay Theater in San Francisco Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m., through May 25

Leontyne Mbele-Mbong and Ryan Vincent Anderson,
as Beatrice and Benedict. Photo: L. Peter Callender

In this closing performance of their 19th Season, African American Shakespeare Company couldn’t have chosen a more apt play, William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing—pronounced “no thing;” the work is a series of happy and sad mishaps between lovers which as in all comedies, ends well.  Set in a literal galaxy—Ryan, the hunter, juxtaposed against Scorpio with Lady Sagittarius counter Leo, the lioness—all floating on a sundae Milky Way. 

Windows hang from above forming a canopy overhead and provide a space for character reflection. Other window frames and/or mirrors paper the spaces where the two couples, Beatrice and Benedict, Hero and Claudio make love and war—amidst a backdrop of an actual war—

These battles waged and won, at least for a moment play against a soundtrack of Ella Fitzgerald singing about baskets –flowers and love. The choreography is fantastic—especially the tango Beatrice and Benedict dance (Act V, scene II) while waging one of their many linguistically agile duels—in the hands of veteran actors: Leontyne Mbele-Mbong and Ryan Vincent Anderson, directed by the L. Peter Callender-Donna Simone Johnson team, they never miss a beat. And this is something to be admired most about African Shakes’s Much Ado, the timing. It is what makes this performance so remarkable—everything is so precise, yet so well-articulated.  The synergy between words and actions, often counter intuitive within a universe where semantic symmetry is crucial, in this casts’ adept hands or perhaps I should say, lips, is flawless.

There are tricks and teases as the two characters who have sworn never to marry, Benedict and Beatrice are tricked and snared by the vary offices they have decided never to entertain. A very physical play, at one point Benedict is crawling along the floor at the audience’s feet, to keep from being seen; he even joins us occupying an empty seat right next to me—then stealthily creeps along the back of the theater as the Prince or Don Pedro (actor Kelvyn Mitchell), Hero’s father (actor Dwight Dean Mahabir) and Claudio (actor Twon Marcel) speak of Beatrice’s love for him.

Anderson’s “Benedick” is besotted. The same is true for Mbele-Mbong’s “Beatrice” who doesn’t crawl on the theatre floor but ends up a stool for the two women—her cousin Hero (actress Danielle Doyle) and Ursula (Monica Cappuccini) who speak about Benedict’s love for her.

The set designer said the idea for all the windows was to show how open everything is in this world—there are no curtains, nowhere to hide—If I had time, I would certainly go again— The work is so wonderful , children of all ages would love it and understand it too. We make too much ado about nothings.  Better to let go of the small and larger stuff, often we can’t change it—birth order or inheritance, so why not celebrate love (smile).

Claudio gets a second chance—this after all is theatre. In life, such is not always possible. A final mention and hats off to Twon Marcel, whose Claudio is so unlike his role in African American Shakes’s Cinderella this season where he played one of the evil step-sisters.  In Much Ado, he shows off his creative range! Great acting and lovely solo in Act V, scene III, when he poetically laments his love lost.

The performance ends in a party in honor of the nuptials excellently choreographed by Tom Segal, with Maureen Stone’s lovely customs rounding out a lovely performance all around.  The play is up at the Buriel Clay Theatre at the African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton Street (at Webster)  in San Francisco, Saturdays at 8 and Sundays at 3 p.m., through May 25, 2014. For tickets and information, call 800-838-3006 or go to