by Nicole Greevy · August 15, 2014
As the audience files into Shower Me, they are greeted by writer/performer Sheyenne Javonne Brown, in flowing maternity dress, complete with third-trimester baby bump. The audience is invited to play a baby shower game, matching up length of gestations to nine different animal species, including humans. It’s a lighthearted introduction to the show, which starts with a considerably less lighthearted story of Brown’s mother suffering a stroke while Brown was pregnant. Brown tells the story simply, including playing her mother at the hospital, telling Brown of the day she was born (she did not make it easy on her mother). For Brown, though, parenthood will be a different journey, as she’s having a boy. And then the lights drop, and a video begins.
Of Emmett Till, and Trayvon Martin, and countless faces of young men assaulted by private citizens and by police. The accompanying soundscape, by Saundrell Davison, is a mix of President Obama and Melissa Harris-Perry, but most of all, of Mamie Till recounting what had been done to her child’s body. It’s a gut-punch. And makes it clear that this show is not, and will not be, lighthearted.
That’s not to say that Shower Me is humorless. There are wonderfully funny moments, especially when Brown plays her imaginary baby shower guests as she examines their “gifts”- diapers from a mother obsessed with her baby’s poop, a microphone from a woman who accepted that her work was more fulfilling for her than having children would have been, an IOU from a wayward play cousin who got pregnant accidentally and whose child was taken into foster care immediately after birth. All three are marvelously specific, fully realized characters that never fall into easy stereotypes- you ache for the play cousin when she despairs that she never held her baby.
Shower Me is a bit of a potpourri of ideas surrounding impending parenthood- in addition to playing several characters, Brown also talks about the origins of the baby shower, child birth and rearing in other cultures, and explores motherhood in pieces of movement, including an adult tending to her dying parent in much the same way she would take care of a small child. Some of the transitions are a little awkward but then, pregnancy is also full of transitions, some quite awkward themselves.
But the first video/soundscape establishes the theme that thrums through the entire play- that becoming a parent as a black American can be a frightening journey in a nation that does not value black lives. I would say the message is especially timely in the wake of the shooting death of the unarmed Michael Brown, but in a country where a black American is killed almost every day by a person employed by or protected by government, this message is, tragically, never not timely. It’s a message that cannot be spoken too often or too loud.
But Brown and director/dramaturge Daphnie Sicre do not leave the audience in despair. For babies are tiny miracles, each filled with possibilities. And Brown’s message is ultimately hopeful: that her son’s life will be shaped by the love and devotion of his parents, starting with the name they chose with care. As an audience member, I dared to hope too. Shower Me is a powerful piece, reminding us of how far we have to go to have a nation where all children, all parents, are equally valued, but it makes you feel it is possible to get there.