The 2019 Shine Play Festival Illuminates and Educates at Soul Rep Theater Company
Updated: Jan 16, 2020
When the lights came up on The Shine Play Festival: Black Men Illuminated, I heard a disembodied voice begin to recite a poem from the balcony. I looked up to see a man reading a poem, Cry Inside. This vulnerable piece about the emotions of men set the tone for the evening of short plays.
Opening it's "lucky" 13th season, themed Soul to Keep, Soul Rep Theatre Company is currently hosting a new play festival. Named after a local playwright, mentor, and friend, Dr. Ted Shine, The 2019 Shine Play Festival: Black Men Illuminated, is an evening of 11 short plays. Mostly written by local playwrights, these new plays were put together with an aim to spotlight the contributions and presence of Black men. Interspersed between the plays were short, original poems written and performed by Keith Price.
I was first intrigued by the simplicity of the set, which consisted of a wood-toned wall and an abstracted cutout of the work "Illuminate" on one end. Black, gold, and brown rectangle boxes were stacked in various places on the yellow, red, and blue speckle-patterned stage floor. As the plays began, the boxes were used as different set pieces or location markers, and the actors were the focus of each piece. For me, this was a successful solution to staging 11 different theatrical pieces. The transitions between each play were smooth and the bare-bones environment highlighted the acting instead of the design. The simple set was a beautiful canvas for a festival presentation.
As I watched each piece, I contemplated why they were chosen to spotlight the stories of Black men. Each play answered. The themes of the evening included racism, cultural appropriation, "blaxsploitation", culture expectations of black men, family (especially parental relationhips), the Civil Rights movement, incarceration, and money - just to name a few.
Honest Abe, written by Kyndal Robertson & Camika Spencer, and directed by Soul Rep co-founder and Managing Director Anyika McMillan-Herod, was a shocking story about racism in the 1960's. Calvin Gabriel was defiant and tender as a wrongly-accused Secret Service Agent Abraham Bolden. David Helms found a delicate balance between mean-hearted racist and "product of the times" as Carl, the white partner of Bolden.
In Lessons from Einstein, written by Eric Jones and Directed by Tonya Holloway, Nick Niven is a compassionate and funny Albert Einstein. He and Douglas Carter as George had a sophisticated and sometimes bittersweet chemistry.
In Like Fireflies, young actors Aaron Buffington and Sunjata Busby navigate a highly emotional play with grace and strength. Written by La'Charles Purvey and Directed by Anyika McMillan Herod, this play is about two young men bonding over a tragic common bond, and I found their performances heart-warming and earnest.
An excerpt from Shoes by Ted Shine, was also an evening favorite. Directed by Dee Smith, the performances by Douglas Carter and Jerrold Trice were perfectly delivered.
The original poem, Hated and Illuminated (written and performed by Keith Price), was a poignant moment to set the tone for the second act of plays.
The Way it Was/The Way it Is by Dallas playwright Erin Malone Turner, was heartbreaking and hopeful. Directed by Richard Quadri, actors Jermain Johnson and Emir Price brought a riveting presence to their story about a father and son trying to reconnect.
With 11 plays to deliver, The Shine Play Festival is a long evening of theater, but I wouldn't let that dissuade you from going. The production is simple and hasn't relied on any trappings to distract you from the raw acting and emotional generosity that unfolds throughout the evening. The plays are shocking, funny, loving, thoughtful, historical, and unifying with devoted performances and enlightening stories. It will leave you contemplative, grateful, and more aware of the inner life of Black men - a subject that has been in the shadows for far too long.
The 2019 Shine Play Festival: Black Men Illuminated continues this weekend. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm at the South Dallas Cultural Center. Grab your tickets at http://www.soulrep.org/tickets.