Saturday, August 15, 2015

"Grounded" also at Ubuntu Theater

Review by Wanda Sabir

Don’t miss “Grounded” by George Brant, directed by Emilie Whelan. Heather Ramey’s performance at the Oakland Aviation Museum, is awesome! We are in a hanger with airplanes surrounding us, one overhead. It is really really cool.  Intimate, there is a tiny stage and a table and chair, which provides the space for the narrative to unfold – there is desert in Nevada and Desert Storm in Iraq.  The parallels pile up unevenly and fall in a heap. We meet the pilot as she crawls from below—

The highly decorated, snazzy Major is good at what she does, fly. She is so good, the men see her as one of the boys. Most men she tells us are intimidated by her wings and her love of the Blue, but then she meets her match and goes flying and dropping bombs to sitting in a chair and navigating a drone.  

In both cases, she is fighting for her country.

Flying by the seat of her pants, means she is not in physical danger, and can go home every night to her family, but who gives the United States the right to play God?

It is a riveting work which looks at post-traumatic stress syndrome. The pilot’s melt down is subtle, but recognizable. It happens quickly or so it seems.  The fact that her commanding officer notices the signs and lets her crash speaks to the stigma mental illness carries, even today.

The director, Emilie Whelan says of Grounded, “The play is an act of confession, an act of brave confession in which [the pilot] must take stock in the actions that have led to this moment. Memory, the past, is a funny and fickle thing that too easily slips away if it is not recalled intentionally. Grounded recalls a contemporary isolation that is hard to bear.”

Harmful events which are beyond what is reasonable to expect, cause trauma. These experiences are not stored in places memories are normally stored. Our minds take information and creates connections between the new material and what is already stored. With trauma, which is an experience outside the norm, there is nothing to compare it to, so it is sublimated. Sublimated, it is hard to retrieve. These memories can show up in reenactments or dreams or not at all. Yet, even when unrecognized or irretrievable, these experiences can affect our behavior. We see this in Grounded, as the pilot’s 12 hours watching a grey screen in a dark trailer bleeds into her reality and the two become inseparable.

Haunted.  Ghosts stock her, and because the job is classified, she cannot share her burden with her husband who loves her or even the therapist he talks her into visiting. “Grounded” is certainly a play that should have all of us picking up our phones to demand that soldiers have mental health support before they have a crisis, and that officers take their soldiers’ mental health seriously. I guess we should really think about a war where people are killed by a mouse click on a screen. There is something unethical and cowardly about a fight where machines shoot people from the sky. America can see the prey, but the predator is hidden. There is no honor in such a fight.  Again site specific, George Brant’s play, “Grounded,” at the Oakland Aviation Museum, 8252 Earhart Road, Oakland, closes August 15, 8 p.m. For all the details visit 

Ubuntu Theater Project's The Brothers Size

Deleon Dallas’s Ogun Size hugs his brother
Terrance White’s Oshoosi Size

The Brothers Size, by Tarell Alvin McCraney @  Ubuntu Theatre
A review by Wanda Sabir

Ubuntu Theater’s production of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s The Brothers Size is simply phenomenal. Let’s start by saying this theatre company which has distinguished itself with a remarkable three summer tenure is amazing when you learn that the directors and most of the cast are students or alumni of the University of California, San Diego, that is, seeped in academia the rest of the year—Lucky for Bay Area theatre lovers, Ubuntu is their practicum for a few months each summer.

Wednesday evening, my friend and I are driving down San Pablo looking for a garage, as in repair shop. This is where The Brothers Size is staged. I am looking, pass the garage and have to turn around. When we pull up we see a sign, and three actors walk by us. We hurriedly close the car doors and follow the cast into the rear of the shop where there are folding chairs for the audience; the seat of a vehicle which doubles as Oshoosi’s bed, complete with a teddy bear, is in front of us along with cars in various stages of repair. We learn later that Oshoosi believes in Santa Claus. You have to love a man who admits this at twenty-one. 

Big brother, Ogun Size works on cars. It’s his gift.  He and iron get along well. The ore speak to him and he can make engines purr and horns sing basslines. He’s happy his kid brother is back from a stint in prison. Like all families of incarcerated persons, he suffered and felt the bars surrounded him just like his brother. When Oshoosi walked back into his brother’s arms, both experienced freedom.

Oshoosi is the talkative brother. Ogun is annoyed and happy to hear the chatter. Cars and metal don’t fill the space like another human being does. Handsome, yet practical, Ogun has been taking care of Oshoosi for most of his life, at least since their mother died and their Aunt Ellegua reluctantly took the boys in. They laugh about it as adults, but one can see the pain, loneliness and abandonment the two experienced as children.

Actor, Deleon Dallas’s Ogun Size is a man of few words but with a large heart, while Terrance White’s Oshoosi Size has a youthful exuberance that is contagious.  We can see in Ogun’s eyes pride in his little brother who has big dreams and the intelligence to succeed in whatever he puts his mind too. As he listens to his brother speak about his dreams of travel and college, he worries about Oshoosi, what he attracts and what he can’t see in others whom attach themselves to his good nature like lint or cockleburs. Elegba (actor William H.P.), a man he met in prison is like this. Ogun tells his brother, “you don’t meet friends in prison,” yet Oshoosi doesn’t understand what his elder brother means until it’s too late. 

William H.P.’s Elegba in center
This is a story about black gods who are reduced to playing out their huge lives on a stage drafted by their magnificence. Even William H.P.’s Elegba is larger than the town which threatens the dignity of every black resident. The one policeman, a black man, sees as his duty one of humiliation towards every black citizen. That Elegba works at a funeral home, could foreshadow the death sentence lingering in the shadows.

Brothers Size have each other. Elegba seems an outsider. He latches onto Oshoosi like a puppy eager for a home. The home he knows best is prison, while Oshoosi is free and does not plan to return. There is a subtle conditioning we see in Elegba’s aura, absent in his friend’s. It is Ogun who holds the space for his brother, even after he gets too old for lullabies, to feel freedom. Ogun tries to give his brother space to live his life and make his mistakes, but Oshoosi doesn’t have the luxury of living and learning. No black man does. One mistake and the living is gone. Lessons are costly for the Size brothers.

Ogun is practical. He loves Oya , but knows he cannot compete when she turns her gaze towards Shango. Shango is a player; he also has Oshun.  The god of iron and war, the goddess of the winds and rains, hurricanes, storms; the goddess of beauty and love . . . meet at the crossroads (Elegba). Choices have to be made. What will be the outcome for the Size men?

Directed by Keith Wallace, with Stephanie Ann Johnson’s lighting design, Steve Leffue’s sound design, Mary Hill’s set and Candance Thomas’s vocal couching and directing, the weather Wednesday evening was lighting with occasional sprinkles. The drama enhanced the production, especially when the men sang the prologue, then again when Oshoosi and Elegba danced – it was more deceptive. An Elegba kept entangling Oshoosi who was finding it harder and harder to escape the widening net–

Ogun dreams as they dance, then wakes to a premonition he cannot articulate.

There are many moments like this, where time stands still – dark moments, moments where the humidity moans and mosquitos buzz and bite.  Sitting with an umbrella up in the second row worked out pretty well since there was no on behind us. I was amazed that Ubuntu theatre (for this production) is in an auto garage and yes, it was cold.

Bring a blanket and wear a coat. Bring a hot beverage in a thermos too.  Ubuntu co-founder, Colin Blattel and his mother traveled by car from Oakland to Albany or further on San Pablo Avenue looking for a garage to sponsor the play. The shops were not clamoring to say yes, but I would certainly support a shop that supports Ubuntu Theatre. The neighbors called the police multiple times during the first few days, requiring the theatre to get permits and still the neighbors didn’t check out the theatre and the performance. Perhaps they will before the show closes Wednesday-Saturday, August 19-22.

The Brothers Size is the new premiere this season. Grounded and Waiting for Lefty are back. Crying Holy opened the season. Again site specific, George Brant’s play, “Grounded” is at the Oakland Aviation Museum, 8252 Earhart Road, Oakland for one week, closing August 15, 8 p.m., and Clifford Odet’s Waiting for Lefty is at Classic Cars West, 411 26th Street, September 3-12, Wednesday-Sunday. I don’t see that Maya is being performed this year. There is no show, Sept. 11. For all the details visit

For a recent interview listen at:

Friday, August 07, 2015

Wanda's Picks Friday, August 7, 2015

Take this link and spread the word about this marvelous show:

Thanks Dorsey Nunn, Executive Director, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, The Brothers Size cast (Umbuntu Theatre) and Michelle Jacques, Chelle's Juke Joint, for a great show which moved between human rights for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated Americans; to The Brother's Size, a play that looks at the effects of this system on a family in a small Louisiana town, to closing with Michelle Jacques, a NOLA native, whose culture work with indigenous American-African music resonates with the rhythms and consciousness of "home" and "belonging" for those who through what Dorsey calls, "structural discrimination," might be scattered and displaced, but are not forgotten -- at least not by us, and we are mighty (smile). Michelle's music, as all art does, like Tarell McCraney, playwright, has done with the work, The Brothers Size, humanizes the experience of fraternal love and elevates it to divinity or god consciousness. If you do not know McCraney's work (MacArthur genius awardee), then Umbuntu's staging, with phenomenal direction, is a great entry to his work. This story carried by these remarkable black men, actors: Deleon Dallas (Ogun Size), Terrance White (Oshoosi Size), and William H.P. (Elegba), is awesome. Don't miss it.

Description from website:

This is a black arts and culture site. We will be exploring the African Diaspora via the writing, performance, both musical and theatrical (film and stage), as well as the visual arts of Africans in the Diaspora and those influenced by these aesthetic forms of expression. I am interested in the political and social ramifications of art on society, specifically movements supported by these artists and their forebearers. It is my claim that the artists are the true revolutionaries, their work honest and filled with raw unedited passion. They are our true heroes. Ashay!

1. Dorsey Nunn, Executive Director, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, updates us on current issues like the voting rights act for former prisoners and a conference Sept. 20-21 in Oakland.

2. The Brothers Size Cast, Terrance White, Deleon Dallas, William H.P., Umbuntu Theatre through Aug. 22 @ Dana Meyer Auto Care, Albany, CA

3. Michelle Jacques (Street Sounds, Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir, Founder/Director of CHELLE! and Friends, La Mission Band), joins us to talk about CHELLE'S JUKE JOINT A CAPPELLA QUINTET which has a concert coming up August 26 at Freight and Salvage in Berkeley, CA.