DC Metro Theater Arts
Review: ‘A Matter of Perspective’ at Live Garra Theatre
By Jacqueline Brown on October 9, 2016
Is he or is he not guilty? That is the question to be answered in Live Garra Theatre’s production of A Matter of Perspective, by C.G. Gardiner.
Eight jurors from diverse backgrounds (five African-Americans, one of island descent, and three Caucasians (one Jewish woman), come together to do their civic duty to decide the guilt or innocence of a young black man accused of assaulting a white police officer, resisting arrest, and attempting to drive away from the scene. It doesn’t help that the defendant was found with a female companion in an uncompromising position.
Although you never see the actual defendant and female companion, the eight jurors take the audience on a journey that is believable of an everyday jury room. The set design is simple, two long tables with chairs, coffee, water and and one window.
As the case is discussed, it is quite evident that the jurors bring their experiences, and passion to the table. And racial tensions will be at an all time high in the jury room. Juror No. 5, played by Eli El, believes the defendant is already persecuted, believing that being “black in America,” is being “guilty” in America. Since the “sweat, blood and tears.” of his ancestors formed this country, Juror No.5, “wants his reparations.” His account of being a young boy seeing his father harassed by white police officers as they sat in a restaurant continues to haunt him, and he has no problem stating his opinion of the innocence of the defendant strongly. El’s performance as Juror No.5 is wonderful. His angry-at-the-world stance is convincing.
One may instinctively think that a white person is going to automatically believe a black person is guilty. The stereotypical mantra that is put on young black men: baggy, sagging pants, dreadlocks is immediate guilt of the crime. However, Juror No.6, played by Suzanne Edgar, wants to only go on the facts of the case. What were the officers’ testament of the crime versus the defendant? Physical appearance plays no part in her decision-making. But, maybe past criminal behavior. She is rebutted in every way possible by Juror No. 5 (El) harshly, and Juror No.7 (Martrece Caudle), but she doesn’t sway. She stands firm in “the facts.” Edgar’s portrayal of Juror No. 6 is very convincing. She would be terrific on a debate team. What her character reveals in the play, leaves the other jurors in astonishment. Caudle’s re-enactment of the incident is very visual and powerful.
As with some juries, there may be one or two jurors who can make the process a little unbearable. Such is the case with Juror No. 4 (Todd Leatherbury). Leatherbury’s performance as an Irish, arrogant, christian, possibly confused about his sexuality is well brought out. Is he a racist? Not sure. He is that one juror you wonder how and why he was picked in the first place. His statements about African-Americans, are ones heard all the time when in any discussion about race in America. “Slavery has ended, get over it! Study and work hard! Stop blaming others for your troubles.”
He definitely gets under the skin of Juror No. 3, played by IO Browne. She makes no secret of her disdain for Juror No. 4, and the fact that he may indeed be gay. They encounter verbal altercation throughout the play. I Her statement, “Being gay is one thing, but being racist and gay is too much for this Baptist girl,” added light humor to a tense environment. Her story of how police interact with black people in her neighborhood on a daily basis is all too familiar. It is sad, yet moving at the same time.
The discussion between the jurors continue, rounding out the cast with Dolly Turner (Juror No.1 and the Foreman), Hillary Mazur (Juror No.2), and Faith Nelson, (Juror No.8, an island woman). Turner gives a moving monologue about her uncle being lynched in the South, for having the courage to challenge a white sheriff, who stole from him. She is a calming presence in the midst of the heated discussion between the jurors. Juror No.2 (Mazur) is reminded by Juror No. 5 (El) that she is seen as a white woman although she is Jewish. Juror 8 (Nelson), just wants peace among the jurors, the world, her son.
What is the jury’s verdict? You will have to come and see.
The post-performance discussion with the cast after was interactive, informative, and timely. ...A Matter of Perspective is filled with great performances, and is worth a visit.
DC Metro Theater Arts
The Women’s Voices Theater Festival: ‘A Matter of Worth’ at Live Garra Theatre
A transformation awaits at Marcia E. Cole’s A Matter of Worth as the house lights dim, and the stage is lit as a cotton field with layer upon layer of waves of white cotton. A barn stands to one side, two women are hunched over in the field, and a man works a hoe. Downstage children and a woman sit around a table as the woman holds a book. Hannah, played by Judy Leak, enters as the story-teller and there is an incredibly palpable moment of suspended space and time…the past spread right before our eyes gets framed in contrast with the present-day. A call/response flow between past and present begins. This back and forth whips into a striking rhythm that the ensemble carries in a poetic, music-like undertone throughout the entire play. Both sections are performed superbly with simple directness, no embellishment, and nothing is ever sentimentalized.
Tears roll down Hannah’s cheeks in a slow silent stream as she reveals how her son is taken from her:
They named him Q, didn’t even give him a name. Just a letter. They made us watch. The dogs about ripped the hide off him. They beat him Till he stopped hollerin’. They beat him Till he stopped movin’. Wouldn’t let us bury him. Any fool knows you can’t let a body there on the ground a spirit can’t rest that way.
Because of that nefarious unrest we are fortunate to hear the voice of a native Washingtonian writer, Marcia E. Cole. The local Women’s Voices Theater Festival has selected Live Garra Theatre to present A Matter of Worth. Cole has been awarded the College Language Association Creative Writing honor across three genres – drama, poetry, and short story. This is her first play. As her biography notes the work is a reflection of “her strong advocacy for literacy” and her belief that “the arts are essential to understanding the world we live in whether by examining the past or looking to the future.”
Please keep writing Ms. Cole; the country needs to hear your voice, the world needs to hear your voice! Your underlying messages are many. All ring true, especially those formidable words…”if you don’t know who you are…” and what and who you believe “is the only one who can set my worth” spoken from the mouth of the enslaved Hannah who knows there “must be something powerful about words” serves as a call to our shared humanness and being better human beings in every spoken word of this work.
The play’s director and Artistic Director of Live Garra, Wanda Whiteside, creates a painfully credible story-telling exchange between every character. Her direction essentializes every word and gesture down to its core. There are no frills. Just truth. Whiteside demonstrates an uncanny ability to let what is on the page resonate with the physicality of the actor. The story-reader or teacher, Karen Lawrence, gives pure, powerfully direct recitations that are punctuated and contrasted with the elder’s story-telling. This contrast works beautifully to build the poesy of the writing as well as take the audience on the arc of the play.
Christa M. Bennett, Antoinette Greene-Fisher, and Clyde McKnight give exceptional performances through use of masks, props, costume, and also through subtle physicality. Most memorable is their approach into the space of the audience calling and shouting every derogatory name a person can be called when seen through the lens of racism. This powerful moment leaving the “light” of the stage, coming into the “darkness” of the audience too is contrasted with other moments of joyous dance and rhyming song!
The re-creation of the auction sounds, the feeling of being suspended in time, the going backwards and forwards all support Cole’s theme of truly knowing one’s worth and resonates with her words: “blessed are they who paved a way to the future.”
DC THEATRE SCENE
A Matter of Worth, Live Garra Theatre
September 21, 2015 by Britt Oliver
One dollar, one woman, one epic story connecting a tragic past to a hopeful future; A Matter of Worth by Marcia E. Cole, allows the audience to experience slavery through the eyes of Hannah, a cotton plantation field worker, just before the abolishment of slavery. Equipped with a unique vision and a voice filled with conviction, Ms. Cole courageously guides the audience through a time of darkness in American history while shedding beacons of hope to light the way.
The opening scene unfolds with a woman, Ms. Memory, reading a storybook on a very small corner of the stage. With vast animated gestures and characterizations, Ms. Memory tells Hannah’s story to a group of wide-eyed children. White lights boldly illuminate the stage transporting the audience back in time to the days of vast southern cotton plantations, to the days before labor laws, to the days that felt hopeless to the millions of slaves who were victims of ceaseless oppression. The set design, created by Harlan Penn, served as the ideal vessel for capturing the harsh conditions of the period while offering a bit of southern comfort, a porch, a chair, and a small window to offer a tiny glimpse into the world.
Suddenly, Hannah appears, strong, bold, and seemingly secure in herself despite the fact that her master’s illness creates an uncertain future. Seventy-three year old Hannah guides the audience on her personal journey: from her initial experience as a long-term plantation slave to the jarring death of her master, placing her future in the hands of auctioneers. Her perspective offered a fresh focus on a portion of history often forgotten. Hannah’s harrowing story is told, with the help of her fellow field workers, rife with historical details that textbooks seem to have left out. For example, the fact that slaves were stripped of their clothing, their names, and ultimately their dignity. As Hannah’s story comes to a close, will she allow her auction block price of a single dollar to determine her worth?
For many African Americans, derogatory phrases and uneasy actions were unfortunate characteristics of this time including being called by racial slurs rather than by their given name, being malnourished, and receiving painful whippings by masters, and slave overseers. In order to show there was hope during those troubling times, director Wanda Whiteside incorporated inspirational spirituals, dances, and poetry to bridge the gap between slavery and African culture. The narrative was so profoundly poetic it bore a Shakespearian cadence.
It takes a strong ensemble to pull off such eloquent words with ease and emotional conviction. Whiteside assembled a talented, collaborative, collection of actors who were deeply connected to the storyline and eager to engage the audience in a captivating manor. Judy Leak’s depiction of Hannah reflected her wide emotional range as an actor. Whether she confidently informed us of Hannah’s various talents or tearfully explained how she was stripped of her birth name, Ms. Leak brought Hannah to life by giving her so many dimensions.
A Matter of Worth ———————
The Young Voices also played a pivotal part in the retelling of history. Their sheer presence, as they actively engaged in the story by virtue of listening, offered a direct connection from generation to generation. They also served as a metaphor for the fact that the past shall not be forgotten, but through understanding, the future will be a hopeful one. Ms. Memory further conveyed the hopeful undertone of the dialogue by reciting each tale with a bubbly burst of energy as she read Hannah’s story to the children.
Conversely, chorus members/plantation field workers Clyde McKnight, Antoinette Greene-Fisher, and Christa M. Bennett, offered raw performances as they recited grizzly facts that are often hard to stomach. Whiteside cleverly chose to engage the audience in the gritty historical recollections by having chorus members speak and move into the audience bringing us out of our comfort zone and into the harsh reality of slave life.
A Matter of Worth explores a time of degradation with dignity and creativity. Careful construction of the script, ensemble, and the crew allowed the audience to enter a troubling time while keeping the knowledge of a hopeful future in mind. This story is a must see for truth seekers old and young. Ms. Cole presents the facts in such a way that slavery is far from a mere period in history, slavery is finally personified.
A Matter of Worth by Marcia E. Cole . Directed by Wanda Whiteside . Featuring Antoinette Greene-Fisher, Christa M. Bennet, Clyde McKnight, Karen Lawrence, Chaniah Taylor, Khari Dawson, Jonathan Waller, and Judy Leak . Scenic Design: Harlan Penn . Prop Master: Dulcinea Bowers . Stage Manager: Vicki Sussman . Produced by Live Garra Theatre . Reviewed by Britt Oliver.