Saturday, April 26, 2014

Wanda's Picks Radio, Friday, April 25, 2014: African American Shakespeare Company

1. David Minkus, Ph.D., Graduate Fellows Training Program Coordinator, has been a Research Associate and Coordinator of the Graduate Fellows training program at the Institute for the Study of Social Change, now now the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues) for more than three decades.

He joins us with Teresa Córdova, Ph.D., now Director of Great Cities Institute and Professor of Urban Planning and Policy at University of Illinois at Chicago to talk about Breaking Barriers, Building Community: 35 Years of Training Social Change Scholars, Friday, May 2nd, 8:30am-4:30pm. at the Alumnae Hall, 2537 Haste St. (between Telegraph Ave. and Bowditch St.).

Both speak about the relevance of the academy to achieving social justice and how they became engaged 35 years ago while students at UC Berkeley in the ISSI. What does it means to be a social change scholar? How can the academy can be (re-)made to reflect the diversity and complexity of society, where students and communities have active voices and roles in shaping the pedagogy, research approaches, and policy production of the research university--are just a few of the questions participants will reflect on during the plenaries and workshops at the conference. 

The conference is free. Register by April 27 and get a free lunch: 

2. Joyce Jenkins
is editor of Poetry Flash, Literary Review & Calendar for the West (, presenter of the Poetry Flash reading series at Moe’s Books (Berkeley) and Diesel, A Bookstore (Oakland), Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival, and the Northern California Book Awards. She is chair of Northern California Book Reviewers, a volunteer association which has its 33rd Annual Northern California Book Awards this Sunday, April 27, 2014, at the San Francisco Main Library on Larkin Street, 1-2:30; 2:30-4:00 p.m. The event is free. For more information on the awards visit or 510/525-5476.

3. L. Peter Calendar, Director; Leontyne Mbele-Mbong as Beatrice, Ryan Vincent Anderson as Benedick join us to talk about African American Shakes presents Much Ado About Nothing, May 3-25, 2014 at the Buriel Clay Theater at the African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton Street (at Webster), San Francisco, CA 94102: Visit

Music: Alice Walker, We Have a Beautiful Mother, from Praises for the World 2005; Meklit and Quinn, Look at What the Light Did Now; Kim Nalley's I Put a Spell on You from Kim Nalley Sings Nina Simone; Ruthie Foster's Truth and Sweet Honey in the Rock's Battered Earth. 

Show link:

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wanda's Picks Radio Show: Nat'l Vegetarian Week; Free Albert Woodfox (Angola 3)

We open with a conversation with Jasmine Heiss, Senior Campaigner with Amnesty International USA's Individuals and Communities at Risk program. She advocates on behalf of the prisoners of conscience, human rights defenders, communities and other individuals who are at the heart of Amnesty International's work. She is lead on AIUSA's work on behalf of the Angola 3:

We then shift to a matter dear to all our hearts, food, healthy food choices this Vegetraian Week in Alameda County. We speak to Veg Week and Meatless Monday FounderKristie Middleton, food policy manager for The Humane Society of the United States and the founder of Oakland Veg. She has successfully worked with dozens of corporations, hospitals, and other institutions to improve the plight of farm animals through humane-minded purchasing programs, and has worked with some of the Nation’s largest school districts, including Los Angeles Unified School District, Detroit Public Schools, and Broward County Schools, to implement Meatless Monday. Her work has been covered by national media, including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and CNN.

She is joined by Krystil Smith, Food Policy Coordinator at the Humane Society of the United States. She works closely with food and nutrition professionals across the nation to implement Meatless Monday and other healthy, sustainable and humane eating initiatives. She specializes in sustainable food solutions, particularly the environmental impact of modern agricultural practices and food systems. She holds a Juris Doctor and a Masters of Environmental Law and Policy from Vermont Law School.

Music: The Angola Project: Amazing Grace, Rise and Fly, No More My Lawd; Fela's No More Water

Link to show:

Friday, April 18, 2014

Fatoumata Diawara in San Francisco

California Institute for Integral Studies Public Programs, Performances 2013-2014 at Nourse Theater, 275 Hayes Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

Performance Date: 04/18/2014, 8:00 pm

Perpetuating Mali’s rich musical tradition, Fatoumata Diawara presents a joyous mix of the vibrant and understated, combining songs about love, politics and empowerment. With arresting melodies soaring over intricate guitar and drum arrangements and inspired by Wassoulou tradition, jazz, and blues, Fatoumata Diawara has created her own unique contemporary folk sound, with a distinctly African spin to the concept of the female singer-songwriter. At the center of the music is Diawara’s warm, affecting voice; spare, rhythmical guitar playing; and gorgeously melodic songs that draw powerfully on her own often troubled experience. Born in Côte d’Ivoire, raised in Mali, now based in Paris, Diawara has had a life covering a whole gamut of contemporary African experience: fighting parental opposition to her artistic ambitions and the cultural prejudice faced by women throughout Africa, winning success as an actress in film and theater, before finding her feet in the medium she was always destined to make her own: music.

For more information visit

Protest Friday afternoon at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall

Fire, Disbar and Prosecute War Criminal John Yoo!, Friday, April 18, 4:30-6:00 PM at Boalt Law, Bancroft Way at Piedmont, Berkeley
Advocating “No War Criminals On Campus!” and “Shut Down Guantanamo, End U.S. Torture.”

Activists will demonstrate at the Korea Law Center’s Inaugural Conference, where John Yoo is among a day of speakers including high level Korean government officials and business representatives.Yoo, the UC Berkeley law professor who remains an unindicted war criminal for his legal work developing the Bush-Cheney administration’s torture program, has been again rewarded by the University of California. 

Yoo has been appointed co-director of UC’s new KOREA LAW CENTER, a think tank headquartered at Boalt Law designed for joint legal and political research between the U.S. and Korea.  According to UC’s website, “The Korea Law Center launch comes on the heels of the U.S.—Korea Free Trade Agreement, which opens up the republic’s legal market to U.S. law firms. The agreement has accelerated interest in the East Asian state and marks an ideal time for Berkeley Law to expand its Korean programs.”

As the Guantanamo prison camp remains open into its 13th year – and Obama’s promises to shutter it remain unkept -- 154 men remain imprisoned there.  Most of them have never been charged with a crime.  76 were cleared for release by the US government years ago, 56 of them Yemeni.  Since the prisoner’s hunger strike of over one year ago which thrust Guantanamo back into world headlines, approximately 40 men continue this strike.  Many are being subjected to daily forced feeding, widely condemned and seen as a form of torture in itself by human rights organizations, legal and medical associations, and members of the U.S. Congress. And the Senate report on CIA torture has still not been made public.

“While victims of the illegal torture program built on his legal handiwork continue to suffer and die, John Yoo has no more legitimate place on the UC faculty than do any of the other Bush torture team members who have similarly found safe harbor from prosecution in academia and the corporate business world,” claimed Curt Wechsler, editor of

The national organization The World Can’t Wait, the main sponsor of this demonstration,  has announced further protest plans on May 10 at Boalt Law’s commencement ceremony, and on May 23 in conjunction with the nationwide Global Day of Action to Close Guantánamo and End Indefinite Detention.  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Every Five Minutes in a free performance at Laney College in Oakland, CA Saturday, April 19, 2014

The play Every Five Minutes by Scottish writer Linda McLean, is an unique look into the effects of solitary confinement on one Mo—recently released after 13 years behind bars. Captured by insurgents, he was tortured, denied contact with family or others outside of his captors. The effects of this deprivation are one disorientated man whom we meet at his coming out dinner. His dear friends Rachel and Ben (Carrie Paff and Sean San Jose) spend their13 years getting him free, yet haven’t up to this point been able to see Mo (Rod Gnapp), who has been hiding out with Sara, his wife (actress Mia Tagano). Once again this gifted playwright has brought work to us that immerses her audience into a world along the margins of society—

Though the playwright did not base this story on any one person behind bars, nationally or internationally, there is so much to remind audiences of current stories, one as recent as two weeks ago in the case of Aamer, 45, a Saudi citizen who lived in Britain before capture, who is suffering Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.  The NY Times article states that a new strategy employed by attorneys for captives is to focus on the deteriorating health of the aging prisoners. Last December a Sudanese prisoner, Ibrahim Othman Ibahim Idris, “described in court filings as morbidly obese and schizophrenic,” was released (

In another story August 2013, we read about 34-year-old Nabil Hadjarab, an Algerian man who grew up in France, picked up in a sweep in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 11, 2001, and charged with links to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. He was tortured every step of the way, first at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, a place that  "would quickly become notorious, and make Guantánamo look like a church camp. When Nabil arrived there in January 2002, as one of the first prisoners, there were no walls, only razor-wire cages. In the bitter cold, Nabil was forced to sleep on concrete floors without cover. Food and water were scarce. To and from his frequent interrogations, Nabil was beaten by United States soldiers and dragged up and down concrete stairs. Other prisoners died. After a month in Bagram, Nabil was transferred to a prison at Kandahar  and finally to Guantánamo Bay January 2002” (   In three separate hearings he was found innocent of the charges and recommended for release, yet remains behind bars.

Solitary confinement is topical in America, especially California with the hunger strikes at Pelican Bay by inmates in protest of the Secured Housing Units or SHU, Ad-seg for “safety” or “disruption.” Mo is an in your face example of the worse of what’s possible—he hears voices, he hallucinates, he has traumatic flashbacks to the torture—  Over dinner, he forgets where he is and at times grows catatonic as footage reels on the theatre wall—where a door lets in a comedic duo –Harpo and Bozo: actors Patrick Alparone and Jomar Tagatac, who invite Mo into their skit—where he is the star of his demise.

Footage show him in a crowd scene smiling, supposedly—the face is so arbitrary—it is supposed to be him, but is it him?  Earlier in flashbacks, we meet the prisoner’s mother who is unsympathetic to her son as she makes excuses for him to his stepfather who kicks him with his boots.

The only friend he seems to have is his little sister—they roll down a hill together—the grassy scene video is really vivid and lush.

90 minutes without intermission, one wonders how many times can we watch Mo’s attitude shift and change –Every five minutes?


Strangers appears at the door—Mo hears knocking on doors in his head—the unknown is no longer pleasantly looked forward to, rather it is dreaded. At one point the person on the other side of the door is a Census Taker, actress Maggie Mason. Other times it is a bit more sinister, a creepy man with coal. Mo asks him if he is dead. God even pops by for a visit -- the conversation is amusing, as is the puppetry with one of the three pigs. One's imagination runs about as wildly around the cell as Mo's as he is tortured, then bathed even held by his captors as he loses consciousness.  There seems to be an odd attachment between the villains and the subject, evident in conversation heard just before Mo is released.

The shadows stalking Mo while he wakes are as real to us as they are to him. How does he put them to rest? Will he ever be able to put them to rest?

He crouches on the floor –he blanks out—the story starts over again as his friends do not leave even when his behavior is inexplicable and Sara keeps apologizing while Ben shushes his wife over and over again. I don’t realize until late in the play that we are going forward and back in time with Mo. For him, reality, what he knew 13 years ago has not changed in his mind—suspended, he is surprised when life is not as he left it— 

This is disconcerting to him.  Molly (actress Shawna Michelle James), the child he knew as a baby is grown now. It is hard for him to comprehend the change in her. In fact, her growth is almost his demise—it takes him a while to return to present consciousness.

In an audience talk back panel I participated on at the Magic Theatre, April 9, 2014, following a performance with Elaine Elinson, author and journalist, and Veeba Dubal, immigration attorney, a question came up, what did he do?

He didn’t have to do anything to be captured. If the government wants him, he is theirs. It is important to not forget those men and women and children behind bars. Mo, never knew his wife came to visit him or that his friends were fighting for his release for 13 years. Often this is the case when the mail and other contact with the outside world is limited or censored. But the reason the fictional character is freed is because his family and friends would not let his name die. The reason why Mumia Abu Jamal is was not executed is because of the global mobilization. Others were released for the same reason, former prisoners such as: Herman Wallace, Robert H. King, Marilyn Buck and we hope others soon like Patricia Wright at CIW and Albert Woodfox at the David Wade Correctional Center in Homer, Louisiana.

For those for whom the idea of prisons and imprisonment is abstract and over there, Every Five Minutes directed by Loretta Greco, might not make you an activist or prison abolitionist, but it will certainly make your hand shake the next time prison expansion is on the ballot or Three Strikes (or realignment which does not mean releasing prisoners rather shifting them to other facilities which often are ill-equipped for long term imprisonment populations) and you will think before allowing yet more tax dollars go to the fortifying and expanding the prison industrial complex—the New Jim Crow or slavery.

Recommended for mature audiences, ages 17 years old and above. There is frontal nudity in the work. The play is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission/

Radio Interview with playwright
Listen to an interview with the playwright, Linda McLean (she is the third guest at 9 a.m.):

There is a free performance of Every Five Minutes at Laney College Saturday, April 19, 2014 at 2:30 p.m.; doors open at 2:00 p.m. The play closes Sunday, April 20, 2014 at the Magic Theatre in Ft. Mason Center. Though it is great the Magic offers these free plays and conversations afterward at Laney College, the set doesn't travel so I wonder how the complexity of this drama will translate in a bare stage. A lot of the work is captured in Hana S. Kim's lovely frightening and complex video and projection design. I hope this isn't left in San Francisco or Eric Southern's set and lighting design or even Sara Huddleston's sound design. I am almost tempted to attend to see how much more our imaginations are required to work (smile).

At Laney Saturday afternoon there will be an audience talkback with the Actors. Lake Merritt BART is across the street about 250 ft from Laney College Theatre.  The Oakland Museum of CA is also across the street.  There is metered parking on the street bring quarters and/or a credit card or park in Oakland Museum parking lot. Visit

August Wilson’s Fences at Marin Theatre Company through May 11, 2014

Carl Lumbly (Troy Maxson), Margo Hall (Rose),
Steven Anthony Jones (Bono) in August Wilson's Fences.
Photo Credit: Ed Smith.
Carl Lumbly embodies in his Troy a man conflicted, scarred, yet hopeful someone new will emerge. There seems to be a man inside his skin quietly bursting at his seams, which he guards closely, or so he thinks. Like the shadowy figure Carl Jung references in his voluminous work on consciousness, specifically the unconscious, Sherry Salman in her essay, "The Creative Psyche: Jung's Major Contributions" (ed. P. Young-Eisendrath; T. Dawson 1997) says often what is within psychic reach is a "contradictory opposite. [What is ignored or suppressed leaks from Troy's seams]" (66-67).  .

"The struggle [Troy experiences, which eventually tears him apart] is [a difficult] individuation process" (316-317).  Throughout the play, Troy struggles to accept or reconcile his strengths and weaknesses and how this performance reveals to an audience his human intention. Troy's psychic terrain is bound by fences-- ones he erects and others erected for him: in the yard, at home, on the job and within the dominant society-- he can only move so far before he bumps into a barrier. Salman says, "this process strives not for perfection, but for wholeness. The 'opposites within' are related to both willingness and conscience; adaptation to the collective culture is not the ultimate goal" (67). Troy says, he just wants to be happy, to laugh and forget the burdens that often seem oppressive and stifling.

And so we watch as he literally wrestles bodily with these demons that sometimes pin him down and lay claim to his life. Lumbly brings physicality to the work which externalizes this battle. We are not certain who will win, but Lumbly's Troy is a fit opponent. Wilson's Troy though he embraces and assimilates his psychic opposites, "the shadow and other unconscious material,' it is never a surrender of his autonomy rather an acknowledgement of the "wisdom of the wholeness of life and a [grudging] acceptance and love of [his] fate. We watch him over the course of the play [metaphysically] 'dissolve and coagulate' [again and again]" (Salman 68).

Troy calls his shadow "Blue," a good hound dog. In a song he sings, a refrain or overture in the work; Ole Blue teaches Troy’s children a lesson in overcoming. Troy carries this memory from his father— all the goodness he has left of home is this song and his brother Gabriel. Images hold within themselves a healing force and Ole Blue gives Troy a way to articulate reality as he experiences it (Salman 68). “You have to take the crooked with the straight,” Troy tells his sons, as he reminds himself as misses a curve ball.

When we meet Troy he is coming home after a week on the job picking up garbage. He has a fifth in his pocket which he shares with his buddy, Bono (Steven Anthony Jones). The two men talk about the job, their wives and Troy's relationship with the character Death. Jones's character brings out a side of Lumbly's Troy absent when Troy speaks to his sons and to his wife. There is a comfort in their fraternity Troy does not share with his family to his detriment when they are all he has left. 

Those Fridays with Bono anchor Troy's soul. It is here that the masterful performance shifts into a space where ritual and magic occur. There is an archangel in the play, injured in the war, Troy's brother Gabriel (actor Adrian Roberts). Gabriel loves Troy and tries to protect him, to sound heaven's alarm when danger is near, and to use his sixth sense for recognizing Hell-hounds. Actor Adrian Roberts when asked Opening Night about his character calls Gabriel a shaman or priest, a holy man. Stooped and a bit weary, Robert's "Gabriel" sells fruit, lives in the basement of a neighbor's house which embarrasses Troy who feels responsible to Gabriel. 

In the front of the house sits a tree. We see Troy sit at its roots and pour libations there toward the end of the play when he drinks alone, Bono gone. Troy fills the house and the lives of his wife and kids just as the tree fills the yard—its limb sticking out like a hand asking for alms. Troy says when trying to explain his feelings to his wife, Rose, that when he comes home from work on payday, everyone is lined up on the porch with their hands out to him.  He never leaves them empty for long.

Troy keeps a string with a ball of twine attached to the tree limb (snug in a gnarled hole) which he takes out and swings his bat.  Troy played on the Negro League teams with famous ball players like Satchel Paige— he is bitter that he wasn't drafted into the major leagues like Jackie Robinson whom he scoffs at as he says he could hit rings around.

Prison (enslavement) is why Troy wasn't able to compete when he returned to society; at 40 he was too old. Unperturbed in this instance and others, Troy has a way of shaping the world so that it makes sense to him. We might call him a hero. He survived. He is a man who takes risks, often getting knocked down, yet he recovers and gets back up again.

Troy's ability to trek back through and beyond his childhood conflicts and trauma is evidence of his healing journey (Salman p. 64). In Troy, the playwright, August Wilson, shows how dramatic and invasive childhood trauma is; how it grabs one spiritually in a vise only death can relinquish. Troy tries to put as much psychic and physical distance between himself and his father and the brutality he experienced in his father's house, yet he carries this within him—he is his father.

Like the elder Maxson, Troy also commits great wrongs, and like his dad, regret and remorse don't have a place in his universe— he doesn't have time to back track. The absence of retrospection limits his mobility, stays his hand once Cory is born, yet frees him once Rose stands up to him. "It is his "psyche's self-regulating mechanism; regression and introspection are not only potentially adaptive [here] but the sine qua non of healing. . . (Salman p. 64 quoting Jung). 
Eddie Ray Jackson (Cory) and Carl Lumbly (Troy Maxson)
with Margo Hall (Rose
). Photo: Ed Smith.

He tells stories about death--wrestling with it and winning. He describes it as wearing a white sheet with a pointed cap— It is always near like the tree in proximity to the house— there is nothing there to keep it out and the fence project . . . continues unfinished for most of the play.  (The tree also reminds one of those that bore strange fruit--the pointed hat reference to the Ku Klux Klan).

There is an underlying element of terror in Troy's life that never quite leaves him feeling safe. He is a man who lives by the rules of the game. He calls it baseball, but though he practiced and was a champion, he wasn't allowed to play when his world dissolved and was reconstituted without him.

Troy's brother Gabriel keeps Death at bay with his constant policing of the Hell hounds. The elder brother carries a bugle attached to his belt. He brings Rose flowers and has a good word for Lyons, Troy's elder son, who is a musician. Injured in the war, Gabriel lives alone but visits often. He is a bit eccentric and people make fun of him, especially when he speaks of heaven and his conversations with Saint Peter about his brother Troy. 

Margo Hall's Rose is the quiet strength of the work. In this character Wilson composed a woman whom quietly loves her man to death. She trusts him, yet he doesn't need trust, he needs her to be the ball he keeps trying to hit out of the yard. He is trapped, and she doesn't know it until it is too late. In Hall's Rose we see a love bigger than betrayal. It is amazing, yet cautionary. We can only wonder how she will raise Raynell, Troy's daughter (actress Makaelah Bashir). 

Bono (Steven Anthony Jones), Troy's best friend, rounds out a world filled with work and family responsibilities. Troy seems determined to do better than his father, be a better man. There is not much softness in Troy; he tries to at least make space for his family, yet the rocky surface he calls love makes it hard to remain. There isn't much laughter at home and one doesn't see Rose or her son with friends. Bono is the only visitor.

Cut off – one wonders about the absence of friends. Rose seems to be at home alone a lot. She seems to always be waiting for Troy to return. She has willingly surrendered her life to him. Cory, their son (excellently performed by actor Eddie Ray Jackson), does so unwillingly. Troy is bright and challenges injustice. His wins set him apart from his friends whom he misses. There is just one moment in the play where we see him lose his composure and become violent. It's the unraveling of everything he tried to keep together— nothing is ever the same again.

However, his unraveling actually frees his family— the god, Troy, as in Trojan, no longer looms over them, blocking the sunshine. Rose admits to Cory when he is an adult that his father didn't ask her to give over her dreams when she met him. This was her contribution to the union, a lesson she learned dearly— Lambs are roasted and consumed, not kept as house pets. 

Wilson's Fences also shows how even if a fence is supposed to hold what one values within its boundaries, the world has a way of intruding. Troy tried to deny progress and change, despite living under a roof with evidence to the contrary— Cory, his son, who would have made him proud if Troy had dismantled the fencing around his mind and heart.

Troy speaks of Rose and their eighteen years together— he admits she saves him when the draft doesn't pick up for the team; however, he needs to save himself. His frequent encounters with death are just a fence he needs to climb over or dismantle. Similarly racial discrimination on the job and his wounded brother Gabriel are all fences.
Fences is the story of a man and a family post-emancipation trying to be free, but erecting fencing around themselves which keep each of them from touching each other genuinely. The edifices between each of them—Troy and Rose, Troy and Cory, Troy and Lyons—bar such interactions. 

Tyee Tilghman's portrays Lyons, Troy's first son conceived when he was young and poor. When Troy comes back into his firstborn's life after prison, Lyons is almost grown he tells us when we meet him as an adult. His father doesn't approve of his artistic career. Lyons is a musician, and like his Uncle Gabriel, he also plays a horn.

Gabriel greets his nephew, "Lyons, King of the jungle"— and growls with a clawing motion. The two laugh. Troy is surrounded by lions and angels, perhaps this is why though he falters he is able to get up? Lyons loves his dad, even when every word Troy speaks to and about him is negative. Lyons still visits his father's house nonetheless. Unlike Cory, Lyons wants fathering. He misses those years when he had to figure out what it meant to be a man and the fences, once again, prevent Troy from embracing his son, Lyons's, longing for absolution and closure.  
Margo Hall (Rose), Adrian Roberts (Gabriel) and Carl Lumbly (Troy Maxson)
in August Wilson's Fences at the MTC. Photo: Ed Smith.

The way Carl Lumbly portrays Troy is as a heroic man without heart. Troy tries to stir it with Bono, his prison buddy and now coworker at the garbage company. We see his amorous advances towards Rose and his attempt to stir sweetness in their bed. Lastly there is his son, Cory, whom he has big plans for. Cory is his hope for the future, but fenced in by his own traumatic experience with a father whose love was brutality, Troy misses an opportunity for happiness at home with his wife and son. 

The fencing he is building around the house, which is a task that isn't completed until almost the end of the play is perhaps resisted, because it is a further indication of the trapped emotions and feelings Troy is victim to. Why can't he tell his son he loves him? Why can't he go to his son Lyons's gig at the club? Is there a reason why no one visits? What is it about Troy that is so intense and so hard that he acts as his own barrier to the warmth and happiness he tells Rose he craves? How does he or where does he find access to these spaces where air nor light seem to permeate? 

Every time I see this play Fences, I think about it differently. In the Lower Bottom Players production, directed by Dr. Ayodele Nzinga last year at the African American Museum and Library, Oakland, I was drawn to the ceremony and ritual. In this production, at Marin Theatre Company, directed by Derrick Sanders with a fantastic original musical score composed by Chris Houston with kudos to design teammates: Will McCandless, sound; J.B. Wilson, scenic; Christine Crook, costume; Kurt Landisman, lighting (especially when Gabriel opens heaven's gates for Troy);  I am drawn to the barriers or fences. Troy is caged and his eventual emancipation injures all involved. Is his freedom worth it or was Troy better off a slave?

In August Wilson's Fences, directed by Sanders at MTC, 397 Miller Avenue, in Mill Valley, the answer depends on whom you ask (smile). Tickets are $20 (all shows) for patrons under 30 years old, with identification. For information call: 415.388.5208 or
To learn more about the show and other Fences related events visit:

Related Events
April 17, there is a free August Wilson’s "Fences" Talk @ 1:00 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California St., San Francisco.

April 24
, Perspectives | Matinee only (show at 1pm, pre-show talk at noon) A topical speaker (TBA) will offer insights into the play. Bring your bag lunch. Coffee; cookies will be served.

Apr. 28
, August Wilson’s "Fences" Talk @ 7 p.m. at Book Passage Marin, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd, Corte Madera.

Most Shows feature an After Words post-show Q&As with a member of MTC’s artistic staff (often with one or more members of the cast) after every performance, except on Saturday evenings, and Opening and Closing Nights.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Trials of Muhammad Ali, director, Bill Siegel, on Independent Lens, Monday, April 14, 2014

Khalilah Camacho-Ali
Bill Siegel's Trials of Muhammad Ali shows an evolution of consciousness rarely if ever seen when looking at an iconic figure, in this case the greatest boxer of the twentieth century Muhammad Ali. In this story of Ali, Siegel crafts a tale that without preconception allows his audience an opportunity to enter the Nation of Islam Ali as Cassius Clay did. We meet the influential men in young Ali's life, his financial supporters -- a Louisville, Kentucky powerhouse and a spiritual support network under the leadership of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. With candid interviews with NOI leader Minister Louis Farrakhan, Ali's older brother, Rahman, his former first wife, Khalilah Camacho-Ali, his daughter by a later marriage, and others including much of Ali via archival newsreel, we see a very different picture of Ali emerge.
Ali and El Hajj Malik El Shabazz

Muhammad Ali
Sharp and on point within and without the ring, Ali as a youth is impressionable and smart--his relationship with his first wife, who though younger, gave him excellent guidance which Ali listened to. These are some of the more poignant parts of the film. I love the courtship and genuine love between the couple and that of his brother, Malcolm X, and admiration of others including the Elijah Muhammad.

Ali's trials start long before the one that strips him of his title--it starts when he changes his name and joins the NOI, when he decides to take the less traveled path, the one where he is his own man--a free thinker, independent. The media doesn't like his choice and later he is made to pay -- financially and morally when he refuses to go to war. The slander is unbelievable. I wonder if such would be allowed today.

Farrakhan says Ali's says to him, "Still a N-gger," today, at the height of his career and reputation. What does he mean?

Ali's decision to be a conscientious objector is a choice Martin King supports despite religious differences. This is an important point, because it shows that the division imposed philosophically between Malcolm X and Martin King was just that, an imposition which had no reality. It was more a divide and conquer tactic by the enemy of peace and justice. The way the scene is set up here, King's killing seems directly linked to his position on the unjust war.

The suffering this court ordered refusal to allow Ali to box and Ali's move into public speaking and worldwide travel is a very interesting part of the film as is the court's final decision about whether Ali would be sent to prison or the case dismissed. We see Ali grow or mature into his public persona as he engages college students at home and heads of governments abroad.

We have all heard about Ali's refusal to go to Vietnam. I hadn't realized that his leader, the Hon. Elijah Muhammad had also been a conscientious objector. I also hadn't known that Ali's life was threatened, his house set on fire the same day as Malcolm X's assassination.

Through it all, Ali is as witty and quick thinking in response to propaganda and prejudicial attacks as he is to physical  blows in the ring. It  is magical to listen and watch. The scenes of Ali in the ring, ending matches in the first round, second, third--he is skillful, I'd think, as he taunted his opponent jabbing him wearing him down before knocking him out. From the1960 Gold Medal Olympic championship fight, light heavyweight division, between Ali (US) then 18, against Zigzy Pietrzykowski (Poland), on, controversy seemed to follow the charismatic athlete.

There is a great scene in Trials with another Olympian, gold medalist, Tommie Smith who along with bronze medalist John Carlos raised his fist (for Ali). Smith says the gesture was for Ali. This was in 1968, a year after Ali's petition for amnesty was denied. Carlos, Smith and Austrian silver medalist Peter Norman all wore Olympic Project for Human Rights badges and all were ostracized when they returned home, for this political stance, just as Ali was when he refused to go to war. Veteran athletes Jackie Robinson and Joe Louis didn't agree with Ali's position on the war either, while Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad didn't agree with each other, but both supported Ali.

Who knew? I certainly didn't. Smith speaks candidly about this time in the film. I found the calculated symbolism in this moment, amazing.

"After the race was completed, the three went to the podium for their medals to be presented by David Cecil, 6th Marquess of Exeter. The two U.S. athletes received their medals shoeless, but wearing black socks, to represent black poverty. Smith wore a black scarf around his neck to represent black pride, Carlos had his tracksuit top unzipped to show solidarity with all blue collar workers in the U.S. and wore a necklace of beads which he described "were for those individuals that were lynched, or killed and that no-one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage.' All three athletes wore Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) badges after Norman, a critic of Australia's White Australia Policy, expressed empathy with their ideals.Sociologist Harry Edwards, [UC Berkeley] the founder of the OPHR, had urged black athletes to boycott the games; reportedly, the actions of Smith and Carlos on 16 October 1968[2] were inspired by Edwards' arguments" (

Muhammad Ali was a force. He still is now as his legacy inspires others worldwide to stand for what they believe and resist the tendency to compromise their beliefs even when the consequences are frequently unbearable.

The film is screening at the Rafael Film Center, April 21, 2014. To find out more about the film, visit:

Monday, April 14, 2014

Handel’s Messiah, Palm Sunday, April 13, 2014, at Cathedral of Christ The Light, Oakland

It’s hard to follow the Messiah without a program, especially when it starts at 21. "His Yoke is Easy, and His Burthen is Light." When I asked for a program when I entered and was told there was none, yet saw lots of people in the audience with programs—I thought, perhaps they’d attended Oakland East Bay Symphony’s Notes from India last month and kept the program. I still had mine and would have brought it, if I’d known before there would be none at the concert that afternoon.

I looked up The Messiah on my phone as I listened and read a synopsis of Part 1 and then Part 2. I tried to guess where we were, but it wasn’t until 44. “Hallelujah!” when the entire audience stood then joined in with the guest soloists and Oakland East Bay Symphony Chorus to sing that I knew where we were.

As I watched the conductor, Dr. Morrow, do her thing so well—arms often in the air as she looked at the chorus to the left or right or rear of the magnificent cathedral—often performing a variety of these moves simultaneously, I was swept away by the lovely voices and musicality of Handel's work.

Lost, I wished there were supertitles so I could follow along. Everyone knows one cannot always figure out lyrical content; however, I have to say that whenever the chorus sang I could make out the words—I don’t know why; however in Part Three, all was clear—especially soprano Shawnette Sulker’s 45:“I know that my Redeemer liverth” and 52. “If God be for us, who can be against us?”   Baritone, Zachary Gordon’s 47. “Behold, I tell you a mystery” and 48. “The trumpet shall sound” was also wonderful as were all of Gordon’s dramatically assessable solos. His vocal range almost made up for the missed trumpet—

The other two guest soloists, Darron Flagg (tenor) and Amy Bouchard (Mezzo-Soprano) were equally skilled and delightful in their duet, 50. “O Death, where is thy sting?”

The small OEBS orchestra was intimate. I moved closer towards the front of the cathedral on Hallelujah and sat on the front row where I could see the musicians—it was really lovely how the violinists and organist, Rudy de Vos, responded to the text and to the soloists, often going instrumentally into more specifics about the stanza just before or just to follow. All the voices at the same key of pitch.

The closing choral “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain” was splendid. Loved the way the piece, handled remarkably by concert mistress, Dr. Lynne Morrow, showed off in the finale the wonderful voices in the Chorus. We were sitting near the sopranos, but all the sections (3) were at the height of their craft. Everyone was smiling as we wondered—perhaps I should say, I wondered, how many literal amen choruses would there be before the end, not that I was complaining (smile). 
Though an Easter concert, it is more often performed in December around the Christmas holidays. I am going to look for a sing-along Messiah this December and practice in the meantime. The cathedral wasn’t full, but the audience filled the room.  It is not every day that one sees a black woman leading a symphony chorus.
At the Paramount Theatre in Oakland in a bit more than a month, Friday, May 16, 2014, 8 p.m. the Oakland East Bay Symphony with the Oakland Symphony Chorus with special guest Thomas Glenn (tenor), will perform the Anniversary Season Finale: Berlioz Requiem. 

Listen to an interview with the Music Director, Lynne Morrow, on Wanda's Picks, April 11, 2014. She is on at 9:30 a.m.