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Festival producer Janelle Renee Dunn during the opening night curtain call. Photo: Wendy Hames.
Ain’t I A Woman Playfest
Various writers & directors
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2018, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
We have of late become more and more aware as a society of the contrast in how we look at our selves and each other based on our differences. That we are waking up to this like the dawning of the new day also illustrates how we had allowed ourselves to become complacent about the dramatic changes of the past. As a White Cis Male, I had assumed that, once earned, the change could not so easily be rolled back, and that society would only become more progressive, more inclusive, more accepting, more compassionate. Current events prove the arrogance of that assumption more and more with each passing day.
Which is to underscore why something like this festival is so important. It is an impressive collection of writing from Women Of Color to be sure, but it is also a crucial broadside in our current culture war. This inaugural production may reach a relatively small audience during its three performances, but it is likely to leave an ever-expanding ripple in the local and regional arts scene.
The writers are from various cities, including Louisville, but they seem to be of a similar mind about issues of identity and perception for women in general and WOC in particular: We see Black women in a corporate performance review not meet the expectation of two hilariously “woke” White women, (The Reviews) and another Black actress in an audition for a dramatic role as a slave be reduced to Minstrelsy when called upon to repeatedly perform a popular fast food jingle for the amusement of the casting directors. (Annie) These are perhaps the most conscious examinations because they explore power structures which inherently put marginalized populations at a disadvantage even when the authority figures are supremely confident in the righteousness of their point-of-view.
That same systemic failure can be found in the more intimate and harrowing story of a Latina stranded outside after an assault (Silent Night), or in the vignette of a mother whose professional life has trained her to put on a phony mask of impenetrable civility (What’s Behind The Mask).
Not all of the pieces fall exactly in line with this theme, yet the more personal drama of Emily, in which a couple struggles to move both literally and figuratively after a tragedy, was one of the best performances of the evening; the writing and the acting merging effectively. Relationship dynamics are also central to Saturn and Saul, which was the least successful piece in a strong line-up. It works for a bit as an extended monologue by the engaging Lesli Harad, but the introduction of other characters mostly serves to muddle the ideas.
The Devil Eats Oreos wrapped up the program with a shift in tone, a tale of two sisters struggling with mental illness manifested in a fear of the undead that left the audience with a funny, unexpected twist.
The production is spare, often a necessity with programs of shorts that must share the stage, but the acting is generally very good, with especially strong turns from Adama Abramson, Delane Bracken, LiAndrea Goatley, Kate Bringardner, Joe Monroe, Jo Valor, and Hannah Connally.
In closing remarks, festival producer Janelle Renee Dunn noted that Women of Color had written only 4% of produced plays in the U.S. I don’t know her source on that statistic, but a quick search placed the number at only 3.4% for 2016, by which I suppose we can be encouraged that there has been at least a .6% increase in the last 18 months?
Perhaps it begs the question of what would be a satisfactory percentage? Whatever the answer, the broader point is that theatre can only thrive if it finds new, fresh voices, with stories to tell that break from tradition and expectation. The Ain’t I A Woman Playfest gives us a memorable dose of such voices.
The Reviews by Kenya Ann Hall, directed by Sydney Edwards
Cast: Delane Bracken, LiAndrea Goatley/Brittany Patillo, Rebecca Byers, Hilary Ford
What’s Behind The Mask by Gwendolyn Evans, directed by Takayla Williams-Jackson
Cast: Karen Wilson, Avai Atkinson
Emily by Cayenne Douglas, directed by Kathi E. B. Ellis
Cast: Kate Bringardner, Joe Monroe
Silent Night by Haydee Canovas, directed by Haydee Canovas
Cast: Jo Valor, Hannah Connally
Saturn and Saul by Jewel Sophia Younge, directed by Janelle Renee Dunn
Cast: Lesli Harad, Derek Sawyer, Barb O’ Daniel
Annie by Vivian Barnes, directed by Angela D. Williams
Cast: Adama Abramson, Francesca Scocolick, Tessa Scortino
The Devil Eats Oreos by Sharai Bohannon, directed by Takayla Williams-Jackson
Cast: Vidalia Unwin, J.Ariadne Calvano, Barb O’ Daniel
Ain’t I A Woman Playfest
July 27 – 29, 2018
17th & Madison
Louisville, KY 40203
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, where he is Managing Editor of their Artebella blog, and host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com. But spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.