by Ed Malin · November 24, 2013
The 4th annual UNITED SOLO THEATRE FESTIVAL is at Theater Row on 42nd Street October 3 – November 24 with 121 productions. Indie Theater Now Playwright Ed Malin looks at Michael's Daughter Ciera Payton’s solo show Michael’s Daughter covers a lot of ground in one hour. It tells a true, sad story from many points of view with grace, courage, and humor. Ciera’s father is incarcerated in Louisiana; 1 in 43 Americans has a parent in prison, and statistically, 75% of those children will also end up in prison. This sobering information is written on the backdrop of the stage, next to warm pictures of various New Orleans families. Like many from that melting-pot city, Ciera is of mixed black and white background. This comes out in the many authentic voices she portrays.
The story starts with her reminiscences of growing up in the Third Ward, which has given us rappers like Soulja Slim. Ciera shows she can rap, too, as she explains how to make crack rocks, something she learned from her father, Michael. Michael is shown to have tried his best for his family, moving his daughter from a dangerous school to another which, besides being located next to the distractions of Bourbon Street, was much better. At the same time, Michael sold drugs on the side, as did his relatives. As Ciera, who made her way to New York, Chicago, L.A., etc. tells it, it’s hard to break the cycle when you go to schools better known for classroom fights than for education. This is a theme she revisits when she sees her father in prison, wearing a coordinated denim uniform that she implies is the next step from New Orleans school uniforms. Various other family members and Michael himself have their say, including honest talk about the joys of drugs and sex.
It’s a story that broke my heart, but made everyone laugh when Orleans Parish Prison was ironically referred to as “O.P.P.” It’s an argument for changing the lives of the people who end up in prison, and for saving the $60,000,000 per year it costs to keep them locked up.
Director Faythallegra Claude effortlessly moves the story between the different narrators, adding in the drug user’s stutter and hard masculine language or the aunt’s seen-it-all tone. She and Ciera have brought us a memorable performance which sparks dialogue on this important issue.