TheatreLAB’s ‘BlackList’ tackled complicated issues with grace and strength
TheatreLAB had its inaugural performance of BlackList on Sunday and dove into the works of renowned Black playwright August Wilson. Mary Shaw, the co-creator and company artist for this project, thanked the audience for coming.
“There’s been a buzz going around saying that if you do this type of work people won’t come.” she said. The full-house proved those rumors wrong.
BlackList turned out to be the successful fruit of both labor and the desire to have representation. The goal of the event was to provide a voice for artists who have been overlooked. Shaw said, “[BlackList] should be seen as an opportunity to cast light on artist who would otherwise not be shown.”
The opening to the show started strong with pieces from Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean, the first installment of The Century Cycle. One of them starred Theatre VCU’s senior performing arts major Vincent Ramirez. Ramirez portrayed a young Black man new to Pittsburgh, PA. He told a story about how he had met a beautiful girl on the dance floor. Though the concept is not a new one, the life Ramirez breathed into the words left no room for anyone to call it cliché.
Even though the play was set in 1904, the intimate theatre arrangement coupled with Ramirez’s believable performance made it easy for those watching to feel as if they were there.
Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates and David Toney, both educators at VCU, were cast in a captivating scene from Fences, the sixth play in the installment. Set in the 1950’s, Fences surrounds the discourse between members of a Black family due to the father’s infidelity.
In the scene chosen, Troy, played by Toney, attempts to put reasoning behind his actions. The wife, Rose, takes absolutely none of his excuses and Pettiford-Wates translated that perfectly. Exceptional casting was done for the show, and this scene was one of the best examples; the juxtaposition between the characters was presented with lots of background.
This was the only piece in the set that was shown between the couple, but the subtext was so undeniably visible that anyone watching had a full understanding of their relationship.
King Hedley II was the eighth play in the cycle, and is known as Wilson’s darkest and most symbolic piece.
TheatreLAB actress Katrinah Carol Lewis tackled an emotional monologue regarding abortion. Even though the character of Tonya stated that she did not have to explain herself to anyone, she gave ample reasoning and background for her decision.
The powerful emotion that Lewis showcased managed to break down the walls of segregating opinions among the audience, as reactions were elicited from everyone in the theatre.
With only three weeks of rehearsal time, the connection between these actors was impressive. Creating chemistry and believability on stage takes time, but everyone involved managed to make it happen.
We have not received word on which artist will been chosen for next year’s BlackList, but everyone is encouraged to get involved.
TheatreLAB has tackled the issue of race, something that has set people apart for generations, and combined it with hard work and talent to bring people together- that is not something that should not be taken lightly.
In addition to casting light on unseen artists, the project also had the goal of raising money for students. The No Dream Deferred Scholarship was created to provide tuition aid to Black theatre students, and the sold out show managed to raise 700 dollars to put toward that effort.
TheatreLAB’s next show, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, will feature an actress from BlackList, Katrinah Carol Lewis. Set in 1959 in a bar, Lewis will be portraying the late Billie Holiday. Tickets are currently on sale- visit theatrelabrva.org for details.
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