by Kay Bourne
(pictured: Katherine Butler Jones)
Ask any Harlem cabbie to take you to 409. He’ll drive you straight to the neighborhood locals call “Sugar Hill”, stopping directly in front of the swank thirteen floor apartment building on Edgecombe Avenue. The address was that well known in the heyday of Harlem when it was a community-on-the-go for people of color. Among the Black leaders and celebrities, mingled in with more ordinary residents, who lived at 409 in the 30′s were NAACP stalwarts Thurgood Marshall, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, Walter White, and poet/anthologist William Stanley Braithwaite (formerly of Boston).
Katherine Butler Jones‘ play, “409 EDGECOMBE AVENUE” about her childhood home, which she describes as “a slice of life in Black America in Harlem,” focuses on Madame St. Clair. The flamboyant Stephanie St. Clair, an immigrant from Martinique, was once the richest woman in Black America. She made her fortune by organizing a gambling operation, and had, at the height of her illegal business, forty runners and numerous security guards important in her battles against Dutch Schultz and other gangsters eager to take over her clientele.
Also residing at 409 in Jones’s play is Eunice Hunton Carter, the first Black woman to work as a prosecutor in a New York D.A.’s office, and the only woman and only African American on Thomas Dewey‘s staff prosecuting organized crime (which convicted Charles “Lucky” Luciano). Carter wants nothing so much as to put St. Clair away for running a numbers racket. (Carter’s grandson is Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter, author of the best selling, unconventional mystery novel ‘Emperor of Ocean Park,’ who came to academia after serving as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall‘s clerk.)
Interestingly, however, while these two women butted heads when it came to the law, they had in common a passion for improving the lot of Black people. Carter had, since a tiny child, been involved in her parents’ goal of opening up the services of the YMCA to people of Color, an activism she continued into her adult years. St. Clair operated a center for French speaking Black immigrants to Harlem where they could learn English and were encouraged to become U.S. citizens. She also bought space regularly in the Black community newspaper, ‘The Amsterdam News,’for a column run with her photograph in which she on the one hand taunted the likes of Dutch Schultz, yet also urged readers to register to vote.
The battle royal between two celebrated figures in the Harlem of the 30′s, “409 Edgecombe Avenue,” has its debut in a production from Up You Mighty Race theater company. Directed by the esteemed artistic director of UPYM’s Akiba Abaka, the historical drama opens April 5 for a three week run in the Plaza Theater at the Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street, in Boston’s South End. Featured in the nine person cast are Fulani Haynes as Madame St. Clair and Christina Bynoe as Eunice Carter. Tickets are on sale at A Nubian Notion and www.bostontheatrescene.com or call 617-933-8600 for more information.
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED THIS WEEKEND
by Kay Bourne
With stand-up comic TOMMY DAVIDSON, expect the unexpected.
Disney appreciates the native wit and inventiveness that sets this comedian/actor apart from the run-of-the-mill jokester. Davidson reprises a character he’s voiced for the Disney Channel animated series “The Proud Family,” in a new set of the animated series due out this summer. When it came to recording the lines for “Oscar Proud,” the harried father and snack-food mogul, the Disney people let him say whatever came to mind. “I was the only guy they let stray (from the script),” confirms Davidson.
You can hear him riff for yourself this weekend at the Comedy Connection in Faneuil Hall, located on the 2nd floor of the Quincy Market Building. He’ll take the stage for three nights of performances: Friday, April 6 at 8 & 10:15pm; April 7 at 10:30pm; and April 8 at 7 pm. For ticket info you can call 617-248-9700.
In a phone interview last week with KBAR, Davidson gave a tiny sampling of topics he’ll be apt to cover at the Comedy Connection. “I like to talk about the differences and similarities in all of us; that’s basically my act.”
“For example?” KBAR asked.
“Black women should be put in charge of terrorism,” Davidson observes, “they’re so observant. Why they should make a White woman president â€“ no one speaks up for the common person like she does â€“ loud and insistent.”
Davidson, who started his career as a stand-up comedian in the late 80′s in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, reached a national audience first with a starring role in Robert Townsend’s “Partner’s in Crime” on TV. Then it was on to Keenan Ivory Wayans‘ prime time show sensation “In Living Color” on which Davidson was a regular with his dead on imitations of Sammy Davis, Jr., Michael Jackson, and others.
One of his most brilliant turns, however, was in the Spike Lee film “Bamboozled,” which satirized the TV industry and its entertainment as today’s plantation for Black people. Davidson portrayed the street comedian (working a corner with Savion Glover) who is inveigled into playing the role of ‘Sleep ‘N Eats’, a character straight out of minstrel shows of the past.
Davidson says that he learned that people of Color in those days “worked a lot harder than us and what they wrote was a lot more intelligent. People of Color’s level of artistry was superior to what we do today.
“It’s like comparing jazz to a simple pop song,” he said.
Davidson appreciates the gift he’s been given to be an artist. “I love doing it and it is a gift.
“And I loved it before I made money doing it. And what-ever else comes, I have to remember that.”
As to appearing in Boston? “It’s spring time and that’s the best time in Massachusetts. There’s no more beautiful place than Massachusetts in the spring. Come out and have fun with me at Comedy Connection,” he said.
BOSTON WOMEN ARTISTS SHOW THEIR STUFF
by Kay Bourne
(pictured: Maddu Huacuja standing in front of her painting “Primavera”. Beside her is Gane-McCalla‘s sculpture “Self Portrait”)
photo credit Kay Bourne
The two women stand at either end of the art gallery facing each other, yet their gazes do not lock. Their arms are crossed exactly in the same way, however.
MADDU HUACUJA‘s homage to Freda Kahlo, a very large painting ‘La Casa Azul (the blue house),’ and DARRELL ANN GANE-McCALLA‘s terra cotta sculpture, ‘Self Portrait,’ are a mirror couple who have met only by chance.
In one work of art, the left hand is on the right breast while the right hand is under the belly almost as if supporting a child growing in the womb. The sculpture of a young woman from head to toe, rather Mayan looking, has her arms in exactly the opposite position. The gesture is womanly, a posture a man would never assume. (Both works are also bound by their aura of Mexican and African influences.)
How telling for this exhibit in the Gallery at the Piano Factory, 791 Tremont Street in Lower Roxbury. “Seeds: Contemporary Works by Boston Women Artists” has been sensitively curated by Ekua Holmes to display the high aesthetic quality of the art, while giving a rounded view of the kind of work women who are artists are interested in doing.
You’ll be struck, for instance, by the firework bursts of color achieved by MAYA FREELON in her large tissue paper constructions, a study in the tension between the fragility of the medium versus the demanding eye candy of the reds, yellows, and violets.
A hundred and eighty degrees apart are the gorgeous welded sculptures by MIREILLE CLAPP which bear a relationship to Freelon‘s work, only in that both are meant to hang on the wall, not stand on the floor. Clapp‘s smooth and gorgeous pieces, in deep rich shades of purples and black are made of steel, copper, stainless steel, glass, bronze, wood, and coal.
Other artists in this excellent show which continues through April 8 are Lucilda Dassardo Cooper, Laura Palmer Edwards, L’merchie Frazier, and Ekua Holmes. For more info you can call 617-437-9365 or 617-262-1988.
A DAY AT THE CIRCUS
by Kay Bourne
(Pictured: Wayne Whyles and Raven Whyles)
WAYNE, 3, and RAVEN, 7, are so excited about THE BIG APPLE CIRCUS that their parents plan to take them to see it again, before it leaves town. “They loved it,” said their mom; “it was their first circus.” Presented in association with the Boston Children’s Museum, the 29th season of the beloved show continues it’s Boston engagement through MAY 6.
“The grandma was a clown!” shouts Wayne, “and she was silly, and the grandma clown, he broke a hat. They were going to the beach and they started to throw water at each other.” Barry (Grandma) Lubin, the star of The Big Apple Circus and an International Clown Hall of Fame inductee, starred in this year’s circus as the boisterous Midway Barker. The circus theme this year is ‘Amusement Resort by the Sea’.
Mom says they were hugely impressed by the carousel of horses too. “The horses stood up on their two back legs,” explains Raven. The equestrienne Yasmine Smart from England commands The Magical Carousel act. “That was the prettiest part,” says Raven. “There were six white horses but one had brown spots, and a lady rode a brown horse. And there were four ladies dressed up as carousel horses and the lights spun all around. Then the real horses came out.”
“People were throwing water!” Wayne continues about his favorite part.
The children knew what they’d be if they ran away to join the circus. “I’d be good!” said Wayne. “I’d be one of the horses.”
Raven saw herself as “one of the ladies who was a horse dancer.”
Other acts that rev up the imagination include the French bicyclist Justin Case trying to master an Italian bicycle he thinks is a unicycle, the breathtaking Zhengzhou Acrobatic Troupe from China who swivel and swirl on animated wheels and take thrilling leaps through the air from towering swinging poles, and Irina and Andrey Perfilyev who perform a daring and romantic aerial ballet, high above the boardwalk.
The Big Apple Circus tent awaits at City Hall Plaza. For ticket info you can phone 800-922-3772 and visit their website. The Big Top is heated in cold weather and air-conditioned in warm weather.
A DOG, A KID AND A PAIR OF SKATES
by Lisa Simmons
If you are in the mood for a lighthearted film that you can honestly take your family to, go and see ‘FIREHOUSE DOG’. What a loveable mutt. Yes. it may be a bit formulaic, a bit overdone with the computer graphics, but it’s a formula that works over and over again from soccer dog to shaggy dog to buddy dog. How can you lose with a kid and dog story? So go ahead, take the kids, take yourselves, take your parents, everyone will enjoy it. Rated PG mostly because the fire scenes may be scary for children.
There are definately funny moments in ‘BLADES OF GLORY’ as we see classic Will Ferrell in a character that has made him famous from movies such as Old School and Talladega Nights and now classic, Jon Heder whose characters from Napolean Dynamite and Benchwarmers are starting to all look the same. The concept is so far fetched, two men who compete in pairs skating on the olympic level because they have been kicked out of the singles division for un”skatesmen-like” conduct. (remember what happenend to Tonya Harding), but it sets the stage for a silly film. Throughout, we see appearances by Nancy Kerrigan, Peggy Flemming, Dorothy Hammill, Scott Hamilton and a number of skating greats lending their “celebrity” status to add to the films cache. In my opionon, Blades of Glory should be rated R, or there should be a new MPAA rating of PG16. This really is not a film for pre- and early teens.
THE REAPING WREAKS
by Mervan OsBourne
(pictured: Idris Elba and Hillary Swank)
Rumors of the ‘next Exorcist’ were greatly exaggerated in the talk-up for “THE REAPING”
Hilary Swank is Katherine Winter, an ordained minister-turned myth-debunker who is summoned to the small bayou town of Haven, Louisiana to investigate eerie events that appear to be a return of the ten Biblical plagues that were imposed on Egypt thousands of years ago. Winter assigns the bloody river, raining frogs, dying livestock, etc., to natural causes and is committed to finding scientific documentation to back her claims. Her assistant Ben played by Idris Elba, a religious man, is inclined to side with several of the townspeople including Doug, the handsome, soft-spoken town employee who originally engages Winter, who feels that something other-worldly may indeed be happening. At the center of the town’s suspicions is the ostracized McConnell family who has recently lost its son in bizarre circumstances: the boy was found dead at the feet of his younger sister, Loren (Anna Sophia Robb) who was found standing knee deep in the local river, which had been transformed into pure blood. Townsfolk are now petrified of Little Loren (think ‘Village of the Damned’ girl meets Scout from ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’) who spends her time running barefoot and wild through the woods.
For the ever-skeptical Winter, Loren brings back haunting memories of her own daughter, Sabrina. Five years earlier, while accompanying then Reverend Winter on one of her goodwill trips to Africa, Sabrina and her father were brutally killed in a ritualistic sacrifice brought down on them by an evil African witch doctor who blamed the visiting white folks for bringing the drought that had crippled the village. That experienced convinced Winter to turn her back on the cloth, say that God didn’t exist and turn to unearthing the scientific reasons behind “godly” things, which is why she is certain that the red river, the breakout of boils and the billions of locusts have logical explanations.
Many were likely tantalized by The Reaping‘s previews and will appreciate the film’s excellent visual effects. It will also satisfy modern horror enthusiasts- people who like ‘Scream’, ‘Saw’, etc.- films that try to make audiences jump by using misdirection and overly aggressive sound design. Fans of Hillary Swank will be pleased by her many halter-tops and numerous close-ups. Fans of classic Biblical thrillers like ‘The Exorcist’ or ‘The Omen’ may, however, want their money back as ‘The Reaping’ fails to adequately synthesize its major elements into a coherent whole. Stephen Rea is utterly wasted as the fallen priest who is Winter’s last connection to her faith; the film’s only ‘twist’ involving Winter and Doug adds nothing and is so absolutely telegraphed as to have been counterproductive. As usual, the lone Black character (multiple-bullet-wounded-ex-gangster-turned-genius-microbiologist) perishes in defense of the White woman he can never hope to possess; the ‘plagues’ plot is more red-herring than integral story element and is ultimately superfluous.
The idea of mixing ‘murder’ with ‘miracles’ to tell a story that is both deep and disturbing isn’t new: “The Name of the Rose,” even “The Exorcist III” to a great extent, execute the genre marriage with skill- this film is more shock and awe than depth and disquiet. I give this film 1.5 stars out of 5.
DISCOVER THE ART OF NATURE DURING APRIL SCHOOL VACATION WEEK AT THE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, BOSTON Tuesday, APRIL 17â€“â€“Friday, APRIL 20, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) hosts the Cogan Family Foundation Vacation Week Adventures with “The Art of Nature.” All events are free for children 17 and under with paid adult admission. 11am & 1pm: Screening of a selection of film shorts with nature as a theme.10:30am & 1:30pm: A variety of children’s stories about nature read by story-teller Laura Ziman. 10:30am, 11:30am & 12:30pm: The audience is encouraged to participate in an interactive performance by the Underground Railway Theater that explores nature in art. 10am – 4pm: Nature inspired art-making activities: Weave a Raffia Basket, Make a Nature Collage, learn about landscape painting and participate in the 4th annual Nagoya/Boston MFA Postcard Exchange with children in Japan. Thurs. at 1pm & 2:30pm; Fri. at 10:30am & 12:30pm: Join renowned nature artist Clare Walker Leslie for a drop-in drawing activity, sketching objects from nature. For further information call 617-267-9300 or click the above image to visit the MFA website.
SPIKE LEE’s “WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE” – Free screening, APRIL 7, 5 pm are Acts One & Two; then immediately following at 8 pm are Acts Three & Four In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Spike Lee traveled to the Gulf Coast region to craft what he describes as a “film document” of the tragic events. Composed in four acts, When the Levees Broke is sweeping in its scope, chronicling inept pre-storm preparations, failed responses by FEMA and other government agencies, the devastating impact on the city’s residents, and the possibility of a hopeful future for New Orleans. Despite the palpable anger of Lee’s tone he remains largely off-camera, allowing the city’s mostly African-American residents to give voice to their dire circumstances. For more information click here . The Harvard Film Archive is located on the lower level of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, 24 Quincy Street, Harvard Square, Cambridge. For info call 617-495-4700.
409 Edgecombe Avenue: The House on Sugar Hill, a new play by Katherine Butler Jones and directed by Akiba Abaka runs April 5-21 at Boston Center for the Arts- Plaza Theatre 539Tremont St. See the “HARLEM REVISITED” article above, for more information.
Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center invites you to Take the E-Train DESTINATION CMAC Saturday, APRIL 7, 7:30pm. Advance tickets are $35/$20 CMAC members and seniors, $40 at the door. Hop onto the E-Train and you’re on your way to diverse music, food that’s exotic and delicious (and free!), a cash bar with drinks from around the world, and more! Entertainment includes: – Celebrated local Jazz musicians Stan Strickland & Syd Smart presenting a dynamic synergy of Stan’s virtuosic horn playing with Syd’s rollicking Latin rhythms. – Soaring Gospel Selections by the Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School Vocal Ensemble. -Mariachi music provided by Mariachi Mexamerica. For info call 617-577-1400 or click here .
Oprah Book Club Author LALITA TADEMY at Hibernian Hall, April 10. ACT Roxbury presents the third event in the Roxbury Discussion Series, a reading from and discussion of ‘Red River’ by Lalita Tademy. Tademy, whose New York Times Best Seller book, ‘Cane River’ was a 2001 Oprah Book Club selection, will appear at the Roxbury Center for Arts at Hibernian Hall, 184 Dudley Street, Roxbuy on April 10. There will be a free reception from 5:30 â€“ 6:45pm followed by a reading and discussion at 7:00pm. This event is free and open to the public. For more information please call 617-849-6322.
Jamaica’s greatest reggae comedian, PROFESSOR NUTS comes to Boston with MAD LECTURER on Friday, APRIL 13 at Kay’s Oasis, 1125 Blue Hill Avenue. Music provided by Matrix Entertainment of Hartford and Jr. Rodigan of Boston, plus early entertainment by Igina and D!Arryval of Boston, Peter Guns, Dr. Lane, Mystic Bowie and Sparkles of CT. Tickets $20 in advance at Taurus Records, Irie JA Restaurant and Hip Zepi locations and more at the door. Doors open 10pm, showtime is midnight sharp.
WINNIE THE POOH at Wheelock Family Theatre, announces the final production of its 2006-2007 season. A.A. Milne’s delightful menagerie celebrates the bear with a certain way of doing things… Winnie-the-Pooh, from April 13 â€“ May 13. Starring Harold Withee as Winnie-the-Pooh, Ricardo Engermann as Rabbit, Grace Napier as Kanga, Mansur as Eeyore, and Marina Re as Owl. Special school vacation week matinees at 1pm. For full schedule and ticket information click here .
“A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD” opens Saturday, APRIL 14, with performances on Saturdays and Sundays and during the school vacation week until MAY 6, in the Paul Revere Room at the Grand Lodge of Masons of Massachusetts, 186 Tremont Street (at the corner of Boylston Street) in the heart of Boston’s theater district. Ticket prices are family friendly at $18, $15, and $12 and may be obtained by calling (617)424-6634 or visiting the Boston Children’s Theatre website here .
Members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra perform traditional Latin and Celtic tunes in free Community Chamber Concerts organized by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and performed in various venues around Greater Boston. The program, which includes such Latin-inspired tunes as Gade’s Jalousie and the tango from AlbÃ©niz’s EspaÃ±a, will be performed at APRIL 15 at Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury and April 29 at the First Baptist Church in Worcester. Admission is free with a reservation, which can be made by calling 617-638-9300.
“THE PATH” RETURNS…. Saturday, APRIL 14, 6:30pm, open and Free to the public at Stonehill College Alumni Hall 320 Washington Street, Easton, MA. For more information call 617-469-8787. From Blues to hip hop, Do-Wop and straight a head Jazz, “THE PATH” A choreopoem of colorful and soulful scenarios about the African-American experience Using dance, music, theater and poetry, “THE PATH” enlightens and engages the audience about African-American spirituality, identity and significant social issues. An eclectic group of Impulse Dance Company dancers and seasoned musicians merge their talents to form the movement for this production. DANCERS: Adrienne Hawkins, Leslie Salmon-Jones, Lisa Pari, Jeffrey Polston Derrick Davis, Tiffany Prout, and Fadayz MUSICIANS: Larry Roland-bass, Akili Haynes-percussion â€“trumpet and piano, Lance Bryant – saxophone, SINGER Jon Roland with very SPECIAL GUEST Deama Battle with Spoken Word artist Larry Roland Who provides the glue that weaves “THE PATH”.
The 2nd Annual NEW ENGLAND URBAN MUSIC AWARDS will be held Saturday, APRIL14. at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston, MA. A host of New England artist and other music industry professionals will showcase their talents with their unique styles and sounds. Come and see some of the best performances on stage from New England’s own and celebrate the work of some of the most talented entertainers in the region. Tickets can be purchased here.
The Providence Black Rep presents the world premiere production of DONE, a new play based on interviews with over one hundred teenagers. Celebrate Opening Night on Friday, April 20 at 8pm. Pre and post show receptions will feature fine wines from M.S. Walker, and refreshments from Apsara, Blaze Eastside, and Edible Arrangements. DONE is a realistic depiction of a group of teens and their culture of vulnerability, social pressure, music, humor, sex, violence, and a genuine longing for human contact, and runs until May 20 at The Providence Black Repertory Company, 276 Westminster Street, Providence, RI Click here for more information.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre performs APRIL 26-29 at Citi Performing Art Center’s Wang Theatre, downtown Boston. Click here for ticket information.
BROADWAY LADY – Sings Love Songs April 28th, 8:00 pm Grace Church Coffee House, 76 Eldridge Street, Newton Corner, MA $10.00 Benefit for Grace Church. Andrea Lyman performs her musical show with familiar songs by Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Fats Waller, Eubie Blake and more. Willa Trevens accompanies on piano.
DONAL FOX: MASHUPS IN BLUE For one night only, Friday, MAY 18. for two shows: 7:30 PM and 10:00 PM. “Fox’s band has the Modern Jazz Quartet’s poise and John Coltrane Quartet’s power.” –The Boston Globe. Featuring Donal Fox on Piano, Warren Wolf on Vibraphone, John Lockwood on Bass and Terri Lyne Carrington on Drums at The Ragattabar at The Charles Hotel in Cambridge. Call 617 395-7757 or click here .