Kay Bourne Arts Report – Issue #34

March 8th, 2007  |  Published in Kay Bourne Arts Report

Contents
LAW & ORDER ACTRESS AT THE HUNTINGTON
A SPIRITUAL JOURNEY – Pt. 2
THE UNDERGROUND RAILWAY AND BEYOND
BASSETT AND VANCE: A MODERN DAY LOVE STORY
OPERA BOSTON STAGED A MASTERFUL “MAHAGONNY”
WHAT IS IT WITH JACKSON AND SNAKES?
WILD HOGS IS WILDY FUNNY
UP-COMING EVENTS


LAW & ORDER ACTRESS AT THE HUNTINGTON
by Kay Bourne
(pictured: Donnetta Lavinia Grays)

303 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #34Backstage gossip about the Law & Order TV shows has it that if the producers like your “bit part” appearance, they bring you back in bigger and bigger roles. “That’s why the franchises are so wonderful to New York actors,” confirms DONNETTA LAVINIA GRAYS. The Law & Order regular is in Boston currently for the stage drama “Well” at the Huntington Theatre.

Grays got cast as a mentally ill out-patient in a Law & Order C.S.I. “The one with the schizophrenic dentist,” she describes. Her role, while tiny, was memorable. In the story-line where the detectives are probing the finances of a couple who run a half way house (and are bilking social services for art classes they don’t provide their clients), we see Grays sitting on a park bench eating almonds. She tells the detectives that, yes, she did some painting last week. The interior walls of a house.

Eventually, Grays worked up to a recurring role on Law & Order SVU, Officer Ramirez, a uniformed police officer. “The only rule is that you can’t be in two different Law & Order shows at one time and that you have to wait six months before you get to play the next role.”

Grays has also proved she has patience with her role of Kay (and other characters) in Lisa Kron’s autobiographical “WELL.” The actress understudied the parts in the Broadway production at the Longacre Theater, but never got to go on.
Never-the-less, she had only the best thoughts for the actress (Saidah Arrika Ekulona) whose health and habits were so excellent. “You always wish the person the best of health,” says Grays. “It’s always better if it’s not a surprise you’re going on in a show.”

The comedy “WELL” takes the form of a memoir that Kron is writing with the unwelcome assistance of a meddling mother who contradicts Kron‘s memories of how things were. Among the characters who take hold of their own versions of the past is a little black girl played by Grays who is far from thrilled to have her school integrated with the likes of Kron.

“WELL” continues through April 8 at the Huntington, 281 Huntington Ave., near Jordan Hall. The theatre is offering KBAR readers a specially discounted ticket rate of $25 to the previews on March 9, 10, 11, 13 and 15. The offer is for purchases made on-line, only. KBAR readers should use the Code 1132 when purchasing tickets at www.HuntingtonTheatre.org

Huntington Theatre Website


A SPIRITUAL JOURNEY – Pt. 2
by DeAma Battle
(pictured: Touba mosque, Senegal)

304 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #34(This is conclusion of a two part story submitted by DeAma Battle of Art of Black Dance & Music, Inc.)

The Universite Mame Diarra, was located about six hours away from where we were based in Yoff. Some 1800 poor and homeless children (ages five to teens) attend this Universite where they are given food, clothing, shelter, and are taught life skills, the teachings of Islam, French, English, Math and History. The students are given Mame Diarra‘s name. She was a caring, nurturing woman who dedicated her life to the children and the poor, who may otherwise end up on the streets begging as their means of survival.

The children and teachers welcomed us with song, appreciation and food to tickle the taste buds. I later found out that the women of Porokane prepared the most amazing meal and drove three hours to deliver it to us in the holy city of Touba and then three hours back home. They were so proud and pleased to see us and were preparing to receive the ten sewing machines, which by the way, do not need electricity to work . . .picture that!!!

In all of our travels through Senegal the most important and amazing thing was that we had audiences with and received the blessings of seven holy men in one day, from Dakar to Touba, the holy city and mosque founded by Ahmadou Bamba. What a beautiful mosque, shining in the sunlight with colors of purple, blue, browns, gold and white marble, with high domed intricately carved ceilings.

Holy men are cared for and waited on by their disciples and their following (a relationship similar to the hierarchy of pope, his cardinals and others), which often numbered in the thousands in each region. Gaining an audience and a blessing from a high holy man alone was a difficult task that many waited a long time, sometimes years to be able to receive. One must approach the holy men with a bow, on your knees or you sit at his feet. In some cases we met with an intermediary before our audience was granted.

Our first visit (close to Dakar) was an audience with Serigne Diely Mbacke and it was amazing. It seems he by-passed tradition to receive us because of our humanitarian venture to supply organizations and schools with tools to learn new life skills. Serigne Diely Mbacke himself rose to serve us a very tasty coffee, like none I have ever tasted.

We were held in such high esteem for our humanitarian efforts, word traveled quickly and we soon had the attention of National Senegalese TV and stories in several of the newspapers.

Since history is so important in Senegal, as well as other places, I thought I would acknowledge the holy men we met there.

We sat briefly with Serigne Abdou Lakhat Mbacke, Son of Serigne Souhoubou Mbacke; Serigne Bara Mbacke, Son of Serigne Fallou Mbacke, welcomed us and was very pleased to hear of our efforts.

We were also fortunate enough to visit the high holy man at Touba, Serigne Moustapha Bassirou Mbacke, Son of Serigne Bassirou Mbacke, who is considered equal to a Dahli Lama, at the holy city of Touba, Senegal.

This holy man was truly mystical and was totally dressed in white robes and his head was covered enough so that you could not see all of his face. His wife, Sokhna Rokhaya Seck, is the founder of the UNIVERSITE MAME DIARRA in Porokhane. The mosque at Touba was amazing with its gold, purple and green domes with Beige and brown marble towers, each dedicated to a particular holy man. The domed ceilings inside were intricately carved with marble of white and gold.

I was amazed at the amount of territory we covered in just a few days, traveling sometimes eight to twelve hours each time, visiting San Louis, Touba, Porokhane and yes, the bustling city of Dakar. It was a successful humanitarian venture for all involved.

The Art of Black Dance & Music, Inc. website


THE UNDERGROUND RAILWAY AND BEYOND
by S. L. Hemingway
305 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #34Over the years, many of us have taken rides on the Underground Railroad through the eyes of various diaries, oral accounts and biographies.

Yet it is a rare occurrence to stumble upon a passionate historian, let alone archeologist, who can balance objectivity with creativity. Then one encounters KAROLYN SMARDZ FROST’s recently published book, “I’VE GOT A HOME IN GLORY LAND – A Lost Tale of The Underground Railroad” (Farrar, Straus and Gioux).

The true, 353-page account, dramatically and at times poetically, highlights a young African-American couple’s journey from slavery to freedom in antebellum America. The book doesn’t conclude there, like many other biographies of runaways. Instead it follows their lives to about the end of the Century and the legacy beyond.

A trained archeologist, Frost more than sifts through the lives and times of Thornton and Lucie Blackburn. She finds the fragments of lives well lived and a story of the communities of two nations in their triumph over adversity.

Like many so-called “runaway” slaves, the Blackburns didn’t just run away. They boldly walked away, boarded a steamship down the Ohio River and headed for freedom. But, the long arm of slavery reached to the free state of Michigan. Under the Fugitive Slave Law, the couple was imprisoned, however, the Black community of Detroit devised an audacious plan to free the couple which almost backfired. It precipitated Detroit’s first riot. Arriving in Canada, the couple faced a more complicated challenge which required international intervention at the highest level and resulted in a ruling which would influence Canadian immigration issues for years to come and literally opened up Canada legally to fugitives.

In 1985, Toronto at the sight of the Blackburns’ final home, Frost recovered. during an archeological dig, the only physical fragments left of their lives – tableware, a ceramic pipe, odds and ends that belonged to a loom. She also discovered that she had an inexplicable need to tell their story. The couple had no children and even though they became successful business entrepreneurs ( they started Toronto’s first taxi cab service), they couldn’t write their own names. Therefore, there were no diaries or journals. Frost weaves their story using the written recollections of contemporaries very effectively. She also includes nearly a hundred pages of notes and bibliography for those who want to look further into the story of the Blackburns.

By the way, the Frost book is a prelude to understanding the plight of the African-Canadian, after all his history and that of his brother south of the border are essentially intertwined.

Purchase GLORY LAND here


BASSETT AND VANCE: A MODERN DAY LOVE STORY
by Josiah Crowley © 2007
306 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #34 Eleven year old ANGELA BASSETT awoke one night – just a week before her mother was to remarry – to find her future stepfather molesting her. He fled the girl’s bedroom when he realized she had awakened. The following day, she told her mother, who calmly asked her to describe what happened; later that day, she cancelled the wedding. Not for a minute, Bassett writes, did her mother doubt her. If her mother “chose not to believe me, as so often happens in these cases”, Bassett writes, “My life could have gone in an entirely different direction.” Thankfully, for Bassett – and for anyone who appreciates great acting – her mother stood up for her.

FRIENDS: A LOVE STORY (Kimani Press) is an unusual memoir in the sense that it is almost two separate books: most of the chapters are written, alternately, by Bassett or COURTNEY B. VANCE, as they describe their very different childhoods; only toward the end of the book do they write together, to describe how a long-term friendship – always based on respect – turned romantic.

Bassett was raised, sometimes on Welfare, by a single, hard-working mother in the projects of St. Petersburg, Florida. Bassett‘s mother stressed good education and constantly told Angela that she was capable of great achievements. The young Angela developed her great love of drama while watching soap operas with her Jehovah’s Witness grandmother and participating in school productions (one of her high school classmates was Broadway director Kenny Leon); after a class trip to see James Earl Jones in OF MICE AND MEN onstage, Bassett planned on an acting career. Eventually, she received a scholarship to Yale, where she received both a BA & MFA. With her incredible Oscar-nominated turn as Tina Turner, Bassett became a genuine movie star.

VANCE, on the other hand, grew up middle-class in Detroit, Michigan where his father (a Bostonian who graduated from Boston University) started as a foreman at Chrysler, worked his way up the company and sent his children to college. Vance‘s family was very successful but “each member was an island” – communication was sparse. Vance‘s five years in Boston resonates with locals, as he describes being an undergrad at Harvard while also being a member of The Boston Shakespeare Company. For a year after graduating Harvard, Vance worked as a security guard at both The Museum of Fine Arts and The Copley Plaza Hotel. Then, it was off to graduate school at Yale, where he met Bassett.

Both Bassett & Vance had incredible luck early in their careers: Bassett on Broadway in August Wilson’s JOE TURNER’s COME AND GONE; Vance received Tony nominations for Wilson’s FENCES and John Guare’s SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION.

This book describes their various personal tribulations such as her long-term, challenging relationship with actor Charles Dutton; his father’s suicide, and the difficulties of Black actors to sustain a career in Hollywood. Eventually, what it describes are two people who have worked very hard on both career goals and personal issues. On account of his upbringing, it was very challenging for Vance to enter therapy upon the suicide of his father, even though his emotions were overwhelming.

Bassett wonders what would have become of her, if her mother chose not to believe the young Angela about the molestation,” By believing me, my mother gave me such a gift.”

We, as an audience, are recipients of that gift.

Amazon.com


OPERA BOSTON STAGED A MASTERFUL “MAHAGONNY”
by Caldwell Titcomb
301 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #34 The first collaboration by playwright Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill received a superb mounting by Opera Boston in February. Written in 1927-29, “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny” had not been professionally performed here for a full generation.

This masterly allegory in 21 episodes depicts pleasure run wild. Set in a mythical United States (with references to Alabama, Pensacola, Oklahoma, San Francisco and Alaska), the widow Begbick and two cronies, having fled the police, establish a town to ensnare all comers. Among the latter are four lumberjacks fresh from seven years in Alaska, most notably Jimmy MacIntyre, who determines that happiness comes from total freedom: “Anything goes; just do it.”

Jenny Smith heads a group of scantily clad harlots. A threatening hurricane spares the town, and the men proceed to indulge in gluttony, whoring, fighting and drinking with sometimes lethal results. It turns out that the worst crime is lack of money, for which, after a mock trial, Jimmy is put to death. “Nothing you can do can help a dead man.”

The most demanding role is that of Jimmy, whom tenor Daniel Snyder delivers with intensity and power, if occasional strain. As Jenny, the object of his affections, soprano Amy Burton has a pure, lyrical voice and sexy demeanor; and she gets to sing the work’s two finest numbers: the “Alabama Song” near the start, and a blues-tempo aria near the end.

Mezzo-soprano Joyce Castle brings plenty of character to the managerial Begbick, and does her own on-stage piano playing. Baritone Philip Lima is a memorable Trinity Moses, who gets to play both a prosecutor and a condemnatory God. As Jimmy’s pal Bank Account Bill, who inherits Jenny at the end, baritone Stephen Salters brings a strikingly resonant richness to his role.

Frank Kelley (Fatty the Bookkeeper), Matthew DiBattisti (Jack O’Brien), Tom O’Toole (Alaska Wolf Joe), and Christian Figueroa (Toby Higgins) admirably round out the principals, along with a well-rehearsed ensemble of fourteen.

Using the not-ideal English translation by Michael Feingold, director Sam Helfrich has staged the work splendidly. He has, however, somewhat altered the ending. Jimmy is supposed to be electrocuted (or hanged), but here he is shot with a pistol. And the city of Mahagonny, instead of going up in flames, is enmeshed in policemen’s yellow crime-scene tape.

Caleb Wertenbaker has designed a versatile set complete with dumpsters into which corpses are tossed and three porta-potties which also function as venues for sex.

Gil Rose conducts an orchestra of 34 players, including an unusual trio of saxophones and an accordion.

At the work’s Leipzig premiere in 1930, Nazis and planted rabble-rousers scandalously disrupted the performance, as they also did in Braunschweig and in Frankfurt am Main. Bostonians, however, were thankful to be treated to a masterpiece.

Opera Boston’s official website


WHAT IS IT WITH JACKSON AND SNAKES?
by Josiah Crowley © 2007
307 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #34 Craig Brewer’s new movie BLACK SNAKE MOAN is, I’m afraid to report, more of the same….

To backtrack: In 2006, the BEST SONG Oscar – the first ever given to a rap song – was awarded to IT’S HARD OUT THERE FOR A PIMP, from Brewer’s HUSTLE & FLOW, a movie that endorsed old stereotypes, dressing them up and presenting them under the guise of “art”.

That movie sent the message that women were second-rate citizens who needed to mind their man. Even if he was a violent pimp. No wonder it got an Oscar: this is the same Academy whose last Oscar, for example, to a Puerto Rican actress, was Rita Moreno’s BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS win for WEST SIDE STORY… And that was 35 years ago !

So it isn’t surprising that the out of touch, predominantly white Academy, in their ignorance, endorsed a product that, in turn, favors misogyny over equality. And, despite being produced by John Singleton and Stephanie Allain, both African American, HUSTLE & FLOW tried to have it both ways: “A Black movie” that purports to give us an insider’s look on a “ghetto” life, but actually sends the message that racists across the country endorse: Black men lack ambition and decency, are abusive and lazy, et al….And Black men see women – both Black and White – as doormats who deserve to be stripped of their dignity and clothes as often as possible.

A lot of people bought into the HUSTLE & FLOW hyperbole. Still more will buy into it with Brewer’s newest film, BLACK SNAKE MOAN. Though not as many, we would predict. Because, unlike H&F – which had Terrence Howard in a star-making turn, filled with charisma – this movie’s “hero” Samuel Jackson is quite an unstable, crazy guy who chains a young, White, nymphomaniac woman (Christina Ricci) to a radiator for several weeks, trying to “save” her from herself. The constant shots of the half naked blond White woman chained to the radiator are both disturbing and appalling.

The point is this: director Brewer is pretending to present a “provocative” movie by using old stereotypes to get across his ideas. Nonsense. Roger Corman and the Blaxploitation movies of the 1970′s made movies like this 30 years ago, but were less offensive: they weren’t pretending to make “realistic” or “artistic” movies: they were simply businessmen trying to make a buck. It was a lot more straightforward and honest.

Black Snake Moan official website


WILD HOGS IS WILDY FUNNY
by Lisa Simmons
(l to r: Martin Lawrence, Tim Allen, John Travolta, William H. Macy.
Credit: Lorey Sebastian. © Touchstone Pictures)

308 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #34So you want a good giggle? Well, WILD HOGS is funny from the start. From the comic timing of the actors, to the writers of the script, you will definitely be entertained.

Definitely an ensemble piece, Martin Lawrence, John Travolta, William H. Macy, and Tim Allen fit perfectly together with the subtle nuances of each playing out as a perfect melody. Martin Lawrence tones down his humor to give a measured performance that is both comical and authentic, while John Travolta, the lead hog, commands his crew with a tentative sense of confidence. William Macy is deadpan as the naïve, nerdy character who is clueless to a fault and Tim Allen is his classic self bringing his signature comedic style to round out this foursome.

I have to admit I was not all that excited about seeing this film, but with family in tow, we were all glad that we made the trip. I think you will be too. I mean after all, we all need a good giggle every now and then.

WILD HOGS official movie site


UP-COMING EVENTS
302 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #34 “SIX ROUNDS / SIX LESSONS” by JOHN ADEKOJE, directed BY LOIS ROACH for COMPANY ONE opens this week in the BCA’s Plaza Theatre. The story of a Black father and artist using the boxing ring as a metaphor for what life expects of many of us as we feint and weave and fight back. The cast includes Juanita Rodrigues, Wesley Taylor, Karimah Moreland, Keith Mascoll, and James Milord as Ace. Playwright John Adekoje weaves an unconventional tale of morals, love and the realities of the street. March 9 – 31. Tickets: $25-$30 Students: $15-$18, Seniors: $18-$27 **Wild Wednesdays – ALL TICKETS $15** Pay What You Can Performance (min $6) on Sunday, March 11. For information and to purchase tickets call the Box Office at 617-933-8600.

Legendary Jazz Vocalist, “LITTLE” JIMMY SCOTT with Aaron Graves – pianist, Dwayne Broadnax – drums, Ron Mahdi – bass, perform at The Regattabar, MARCH 8, 7:30pm at the Charles Hotel, One Bennett Street, Cambridge. For ticket info call 617-395-7757 or click here.

ESSENCE MAGAZINE AND BERKLEE COLLEGE OF MUSIC ANNOUNCE THEIR SECOND NATIONAL HIP-HOP SONGWRITING CONTEST for teens, 15-18 yrs. old. deadline is March 9 and three winners will attend a high school music program at Berklee this summer. For complete contest rules click here.

The high price of fame is revealed in this roof-raising and soul-stirring portrait of American Blues legend, Dinah Washington played by Laiona Michelle. In “DINAH WAS” the ‘Queen of the Blues’ fights for her rights in the lobby of the Las Vegas Sahara Hotel where she is scheduled to perform but where she is not allowed to stay. Memories of her life and loves are woven together with live performances of her classic hits including “What A Diff’rence A Day Makes,” “I Wanna Be Loved,” and “Come Rain or Come Shine.” “Dinah Was” runs until March 11 at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell. For more info click here.

StageSource Audition Prep Seminar in Roxbury! Join StageSource at Hibernian Hall as they talk with working theatre professionals about the audition process. Discuss monologues, attire, the look of your headshot and resume, what to do if you don’t have one, timing your audition pieces and much more. Featured panelists included local actors, directors, and producers in Boston theatre. This question and answer session will be held Monday, MARCH 12, 6:30 – 8pm at the Roxbury Center for the Arts, Hibernian Hall 182 Dudley Street, Roxbury. Please call 617-720-6066 to reserve a seat. Attendees are encouraged to come with questions about the audition process. This seminar is free to all.

Friday, MARCH 16, 7:30pm at Berklee Performance Center, 136 Mass Avenue, THE SOULHOP TOUR: A benefit Concert for two non-profits, Critical Breakdown and Project HIP-HOP, featuring Raheem DeVaughn, Choklate, and Jahi. Hosted by Sofia Snow, with the Berklee Hip-Hop Ensemble. Tickets $20 Also, Saturday, MARCH 17, Critical Breakdown’s Youth Truth Workshop at Boston Arts Academy w/artists from Friday night, plus Ramona Africa, Askia Toure and many others. For more info visit Critical Breakdown’s website and visit Project Hip Hop’s website.

The Roxbury Discussion Series continues with African American Troops in the Revolutionary War a presentation by historian Thomas Plant on March 15, 10am to 12pm at Roxbury Center for Arts at Hibernian Hall. The event is free!

Black Wampanoag Folklore Reading & Book Signing of “A MIXED MEDICINE BAG”, by Mwalim Thursday, MARCH 22, 7-9pm at ARTWORKS! 384 Acushnet Avenue, New Bedford Free & Open to the Public. Refreshments Served “A Mixed Medicine Bag” is a collection of original Black Wampanoag folk-tales, taken from the award-winning storytelling performances of Mwalim (Morgan James Peters) one of the contemporary masters of the oral tradition and a member of the recently federally recognized Mashpee Wampanoag tribe.

Reggae’s newest sensation NATURAL BLACK performs for the first time in Boston, backed by Inner Power Band, plus special guest from Trinidad, MARLON ASHER on Friday, MARCH 30 at Club Lido’s, 1290 North Shore Road, Revere. Doors open at 9pm, showtime 11pm. Tickets $30 in advance at Irie Jamaican Restaurant 617-929-3866, Taurus Records 617-298-2655 and all Hip Zepi Locations 617-350-6870. For info call 617-943-4544.

ACT ROXBURY presents “Are You Ready, My Sister?” at Hibernian Hall on APRIL 3 – 5 at 10am, the exciting story of Harriet Tubman, and the Quaker women who helped her bring 300 fugitives to freedom. This historical adventure story is told by two actress/puppeteers using a giant patchwork quilt; as the plot unfolds, each square of the quilt comes to life with shadow-puppets and painted back-lit scenery. Besides providing a brilliantly colorful setting, the quilt is a metaphor of women’s work and collaborations. The play features audience participation, dramatic scenes and live music based on the spirituals of the slave-era. Appropriate for adults and students grades 3-8. Tickets are $10, with discounts for student groups. Please contact Jonathan at 617-541-3900 x324 to reserve tickets. Hibernian Hall is located at 182 Dudley Street, Roxbury

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