In SOUL-O-SHORTS, Soul Rep Theatre Creates a Space for Healing, Remembrance, and Growth
By Cristee Cook
Soul Rep Theatre Company's final production of their 25th Anniversary season, SOUL-O-SHORTS is a filmed theatrical program of six short, solo performances. Presented by Soul Rep company members, SHORTS is available for online streaming through May 31. 2021.
SOUL-O-SHORTS succeeds from the outset due to the filming style. Each performance has a tangible, theatrical quality; in some pieces we see the stage floor with a backdrop and simple furniture, while others have a raw, live quality.
There is unity in the program due to the common themes that are present throughout. Delivered though personal monologues, poetic language, and movement, the stories offer a deeper perspective on the black experience, often including a reimagined historic event. Within the dark realities of racism, each story offers a space for healing, release, and even hope.
The collection opens with Hi Hi Hattie and Mr. Oscar by Anyika McMillan-Herod and Monique Ridge Williams. Directed by Tonya Holloway, Hi Hi Hattie reimagines the night Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for her role as Mammy in the 1940 film Gone With The Wind. In the play, she converses with her award statue about the racism she endures in Hollywood. Ridge-Williams as Hattie is a perfect balance of strength despite pain and hope for the future. She’s funny, rebellious, and honest.
The Eulogy of Bessie Coleman Presented by Ida B. Wells by Camika Spencer opened with a sepia-toned film filter that gave the play a feeling of an old photograph. Kimberly Williams delivers a crisp and clean monologue as Ida B. Wells, with a fierce commitment to empowerment. The performance leaves room for focus on Spencer’s powerful words, which are a reflection on systemic racism and how Coleman moved past it in her life. Themes of black female leadership and learning from the past make this piece both moving and educational.
In NAT, the third short in the series, actor Douglas Carter handles the poetic and emotional story of Nat Turner’s slave rebellion with eloquence and strength. The stormy setting and original music, coupled with historical photographs, complete the powerful piece. Written by Keith Price and Directed by Anyika McMillan-Herod, NAT takes Turner’s point of view and offers an intimate lens of the 1831 slave rebellion.
Golden Bench of God by Chris Herod is a snapshot of Zora Neale Hurston at the end of her life. Anyika McMillan-Herod performance as Zora is spot on. The moody palette and creative camera work create a rich world, and beautiful music underscore a monologue that both actress and playwright expertly render, mirroring and echoing much of Hurston’s style and phrasing.
The fifth story in the program is Lessons and Sessions of a Madman’s Confessions, a spoken word trilogy written and performed by Jamal McNeil and Directed by Guinea Bennett-Price. The voiceover is paired with an animated film style of images and videos of local neighborhoods, natural spaces, and empty streets. McNeil’s poetry is emotional, at times funny, and all a keen perspective on how black men are seen, his connection to his ancestors, and his experience as a black man. I loved the rhythm and interplay of the poems and the moving images.
The finale piece, Zanzi Starr is a mystical, poetic, dance piece. Written by Guinea Bennett-Price and Directed/Choreographed by La’Hunter Smith, Zanzi Starr is energetic and moving. Dancer Harmoni Hampton personifies the story’s themes of black girl magic and female empowerment. Yusef Miller’s vocal work in the spoken work voiceover adds a magical quality to the themes of ancestors and origins, miracles, and magic.
In a filmed curtain speech, Soul Rep Co-Artistic Director/Co-Founder Guinea Bennett-Price said that Soul Rep Theatre is “drilling down on our original mission to shift the paradigm of how the black experience is valued in the world through the work we do.” Their work has certainly reflected that mission in the stories they have chosen not just in SOUL-O-SHORTS, but throughout their 25th season. The narratives have been educational, hopeful, vulnerable, and creatively shared. As re-inventers of black stories, Soul Rep Theatre has created a space for healing, remembrance, and growth.
SOUL-O-SHORTS by Soul Rep Theatre company members is available for online streaming through May 31, 2021.
Click HERE to grab your streaming pass.