by Ed Malin · February 2, 2015
Horse Trade and a devoted group of artists (Kelley Nicole Girod, Kevin R. Free, Keila Fontanéz LaSalle, Angelica Chéri, A.J. Muhammad, James Masciovecchio) present the Sixth Annual The Fire This Time Festival. Leading up to Black History Month, you can see new full-length plays, shorts and readings of universal importance, focused on African-American themes. I saw the program of seven diverse ten-minute plays.
Dolphins and Sharks by James A. Tyler, directed by Charlotte Brathwaite is the story of an office that has its employees in the grip of wage slavery. The boss, Xiomara (Analisa Velez), who is called Noxzema and other things behind her back, could approve a pay raise for Yusuf (Phillip J. Lewis) and Isabel (Pernell Walker). Or could she? Perhaps they’re not going to take it anymore.
The Sandbox by Azure D. Osborne-Lee, directed by Jamal Jordan shows us a couple of siblings on a playful rampage. June (Kelly Erin Sloan) is being romanced by Neale (Lori E. Parquet), but her sister Jelly (Kirya Yvonne Traber) steals their love note. Their Granny (Suzanne Darrell) is the hilarious voice of reason in this situation.
Easy to Fall in Love by Larry Powell, directed by Tonya Pinkins and T.J. Weaver turns an innocent shoe shine into a gripping family reunion. Bobby (Jaquay Thomas) is a flamboyant player who accepts a free shine from an older gentleman, Greg (Brian D. Coats). Greg then reveals he is Bobby’s long-lost father and they must face the reasons why they have become the men they are.
Not In This Room by Daaimah Mubashshir, directed by Kimille Howard ably presents the intergenerational cultural clash in an Islamic family. Abdullah (Anton Floyd) plans to move in with his mother after his father dies. However, all of a sudden it is unexpectedly hard for him to relate to Jamillah (Toni Anne De Noble), Fatimah (Chinai J. Hardy) and Nedra (Melissa Mickens).
The Marriage of Zoltar, or Rollercoaster: Your Love, written and directed by Rod Gailes OBC is a nightmarish five-year anniversary date at the semi-magical playground known as Coney Island. Adam (Roger Yeh) reminds Cherise (Marchelle Thurman) of their charming first date, which included the screwball fortune telling machine, Zoltar (Ayo Akinsanya). Adam’s attempt to propose to Marchelle is complicated by some inability in her psyche to accept the love of a bisexual man. Will Adam find himself with Steve (Jackson Thompson) instead?
“A Military Habit” by Aziza Barnes, directed by Denis A. Allen III examines how two siblings, Spencer (Mahlaney Wilson) and Ellis (Crystal M. Valentine) feel about their absentee father. It’s Veteran’s Day and a rumored sighting of the mystery man—a soldier and an unacknowledged huge part of their lives—may threaten their close friendship.
Coal Run Road by Julienne Hairston, directed by Tasha Gordon-Solmon closes out the program with a visceral dose of institutionalized racism. On the poor side of town, Lynn (Ugo Chukwu) is just closing up his shoe shine stand when an old friend, Caleb (Roger Casey) says hello. Caleb has become a breakthrough musician, and is back to be honored essentially as someone who got out and made a name for himself. True, a young kid (Brandon Parks) is hypnotized by Caleb’s looks and trappings of success. But do the cops see Caleb as anything else than another African-American for them to harass? What would happen if Caleb and everyone in town had stood together to improve their community?
This was a powerful evening of theater which easily provoked the audience to nervous laughter and directed anger. In the words of the spiritual, also used by James Baldwin: "God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no more water but fire next time". We are living in a city which is more conscious then ever of racial inequality and violence. Theater is a tried-and-true way to organize our thoughts and find the way forward.