"Invisible Women Melting" at Robeson's Black Box this week

Nancy Keefe Rhodes 04/07/09More articles
“One of the wonderful things about this production,” commented Jackie Warren-Moore last Saturday afternoon during a break in rehearsal, “is that it brings together women who might not cross paths with each other. There are African American women and African women and students from SU and OCC and high school and women from the community.”

The first two there for rehearsal, for example, were Nora Hakizimana, a high school freshman at Christian Brothers Academy, and Alice Nzigire, an Onondaga Community College sophomore. Dr. Micere Mugo of Syracuse University’s Pan African Studies had recruited both young women to the cast.

“She emailed my father,” said Nzigire, “to see if I might be interested.”

Juanita Perry arrived next. She works for JOBS Plus and said, “I recently realized that I want to be an actress and my husband noticed a casting call for this play, so I tried out.”

Warren-Moore directs Jessica Ann Mitchell’s play, which has four performances this week at the Paul Robeson Company’s Dee-Davis Black Box Theater. Warren-Moore has long been associated with Robeson, one of the several entities jointly supporting this production.

Mitchell is a graduate student in SU’s Pan African Studies and her play, "Invisible Women Melting," also brings together women from opposite sides of the globe, all affected by climate change. The experiences of two women – Kamari Shumani of Tanzania and Shaqueta Jones of Atlanta, Georgia – are set side by side on stage and alternate in a series of set pieces. These vignettes juxtapose ancient incantations to the moon with today’s radio news about the strange patterns of growing seasons. Village women beat pans to mourn a miscarriage brought on by a drunken husband’s beating, next to the rising price of boxed macaroni and cheese in Atlanta. As Mitchell’s refrain goes, “Two women, one world.”

Five cast members play aspects of each woman – Warren-Moore called the groups “the Shaquetas” and “the Kamaris” during rehearsal – who perform together as well as emerge for soliloquies. Hakizimana and Nzigire are both Kamaris (along with Farida Makaji, Dithole, and Jemeli Tanui). Perry is one of the Shaquetas (along with Aretha Cummings-Fulmer, Dominique Baldwin, Jasmine Mathis and Mesha Givens.) Playwright Mitchell and Anita Simmons play two figures identified as “the Poets.” Their short commentaries act as bridges between the set pieces.

By Saturday, cast and crew had been working together for a month. If the edges were still a little rough, the gems were casting their soft glow too.

As rehearsal got underway, Warren-Moore introduced the cast to Darnell Williams, who’s done lights and sound for Robeson productions for 20 plus years now.

“This is good practice for you to stay in character,” she told them. “We’re in our tech week now, so Darnell will be checking the lights and working during rehearsal. He might get up on a ladder or I might yell something to him – you just keep going.”

Warren-Moore wanted to run through a scene in which the Kamaris lament the distortion of growing seasons for their crops. Then she worked on polishing a scene in which the women invoke the moon as ancient teacher. They begin reclining on stage and need to be standing by the scene’s climax.

“Nora,” says Warren-Moore to the CBA student, “what if you rise to your knees on the line ‘wanting to soar’ so you’ll be ready to get up? Let’s try that.”

Valerie Johnson and Akosua have arrived now. The two women will accompany the performance on drums and they settle in their spot, stage left.

There’s a stately and sorrowful piece with the refrain, “If the sun women die, let it be known that the sun will die too, for what would be the point of shining?” And that macaroni and cheese piece, expansive enough to include Mesha Givens’ snappy comic riff on food prices, then build to Dominique Baldwin’s wrenching lament that she needs five more dollars to feed her kids and doesn’t get paid till next week.

By two o’clock they’ve done most of their run-through. Warren-More and Mitchell plan a trip to Wal-Mart for the props they still need around the remaining sessions of the week-end’s Grassroots Media Conference. Grandchildren who managed to sit quietly through rehearsal are up now and the cast works out who needs rides to get home.

Mitchell is surely a talent to watch. Her play’s limited run is a good place for Syracuse audiences to start.

See “Invisible Women Melting” this week only, Wednesday – Saturday, April 8 – 11 at 7:00 PM, at the Paul Robeson Performing Arts Company’s Dee-Davis Black Box Theater, housed in the Community Folk Art Center, 805 E. Genesee St. Admission free to all. Information at 442.2727. Nancy covers the arts. Reach her at nancykeeferhodes@gmail.com.

CATEGORY: Performing Arts
TAGS: Jessica Ann Mitchell, Jackie Warren Moore, Paul Robeson Performing Arts Company, Invisible Women Melting, Pan African Studies, Syracuse University, climate change, global warming, Nancy Keefe Rhodes
EDITION: The Eagle

Rating: 3.2/5 (11 votes cast)

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