Through June 5 at the Darkhorse Theater
Along with Kia Corthron and Suzan-Lori Parks, Tracey Scott Wilson belongs to a burgeoning wave of African American female playwrights with a lot to say and front-and-center ways of saying it. Unafraid to exploit contemporary issuesracism, gang violence, the plight of welfare mothersthey're equally willing to invoke images and stereotypes that force the viewer to critique U.S. culture. It's been 18 months since Wilson's award-winning The Story debuted in New York, and since then the play has caught fire nationwide, with productions in Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit and Minneapolis, and forthcoming mountings in Los Angeles and New Orleans.
Wilson tells a tale of politics and pressure within a big-city newspaper known as The Daily, specifically in how its African American journalists handle reporting events in their own community. The infighting pits an older editor vs. a newbie reporter with Ivy League credentials who's intent on making her mark with a big scoop. An opportunity presents itself when a white schoolteacher is gunned down in a black neighborhood. The reporter follows the ripe lead of a young girl supposedly involved in a gang, then becomes entangled in apparent falsehoods, which leads her to write a story driven more by half-truths and editorial imperative than by reality.
The scenario derives elements from the 1981 Washington Post scandal in which African American reporter Janet Cooke wrote a series about an 8-year-old inner-city heroin addict and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her work, only to have it revealed that her story was pieced together from hearsay and her own imagination. Cooke's résumé also turned out to be fraudulent, whereupon she returned the Pulitzer and resigned in disgrace.
Without question, Wilson has a knack for examining journalistic and human concerns, including the pressure to achieve, the dynamics among whites and blacks in the newsroom, and how stereotyping is handled in print. The Story is a wholly theatrical piece, and despite some structural flawse.g., the conclusion is left hanging in midairit maintains the pulse of a good docudrama. Possibly the greatest testament to its strength is the fact that we're able to perceive its potential even through the murky haze of the production at Darkhorse Theater.
Sista Style Productions, an African American community theater group venturing forth with its third effort, displays good sense in choosing Wilson's work. It's a happening play that deserves attention, but director John Wiggins has nary a clue as to how to stage the action. This is a rapid-fire drama that requires breathless pacing and left-brain-driven verbal choreography. Clean yet innovative blocking and creative use of lighting need to intersect to bring to life dialogue that relates both external events and the interior lives of the principals. None of this, however, is much in evidencenor is any sort of directorial vision.
Wiggins lets his actors run free, but The Story is simply too demanding a script to rely on talent alone. That said, Darlene Knight, Marlon Styles, Mary McCallum, Obadiah Ewing-Roush and Cindy Ellis all show nearly equal glimmers of ability and moments of self-generated power. There are plenty of confrontations onstage, and the players' natural impulses work to ignite characterizations that offer some semblance of truth. Yet any momentum gets short-circuited by the unsure rhythms of Wiggins' staging.
Like the lead character in Wilson's play, this production is running mostly on ambition alone and is in dire need of seasoning. Curious theatergoers could derive some value out of the script, but they'll have to bring a healthy dose of their own imagination to the process.
Sista Style Productions is unique in that it's a startup community theater group with special focus on plays that revolve around the African American experience. Its mission is lofty, well-intentioned and benefits from the fact that many of its personnel have had prior involvement with the theater program at Tennessee State University. This current effort finds the company at a typical juncture: young, still growing and poised to do better work next time around.
I just...this recap...why did I not know these were here until now?! 4 times on…
So long Don. Your creative energy and encouragement were inspirational to me.
It was so great being one of those kids in Dayton.
I miss Iodine.
^ It's nice to see an official acknowledgement by management. Kristen Mcarther Miles (the girl…
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