Thursday, February 12, 2009

M Ensemble: A Women Called Truth (2 Reviews)

The M Ensemble presents A Woman Called Truth through March 1, 2009. It's the true story of Sojourner Truth, a woman born into slavery who became both an abolitionist and an advocate for women's rights.

Jerry Maple, Jr. directs Christina Alexander, Curtis Allen, Victoria Mallow, John Wendell, Carolyn Johnson and Loye Hawkins.

Christine Dolen reviewed the show for the Miami Herald;
For Black History Month, Miami's M Ensemble is offering a crash course on the life of the heroic woman who called herself Sojourner Truth. That neither the script nor the production is well-executed theater doesn't, in the end, diminish the power of a courageous woman's inspiring story.
Dolen's strongest criticism is of the script itself:
Asher's ... focuses on Sojourner Truth's life up to the time of her famous ''Ain't I a Woman?'' speech, a fiery address she gave at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention in 1851. Her life and activism continued for another 32 years, but in focusing on Belle's journey to becoming Sojourner Truth, Asher virtually ignores critical years of her history.
There are elements that Dolen enjoyed immensely;
Like other productions of A Woman Called Truth, Maple's is enriched by having the actors sing songs of the day -- spirituals, slave songs, folk songs. Alexander is also the show's biggest vocal asset, an accomplished singer whose rich voice and interpretive skill impart a moving depth to whatever she sings.
But that doesn't outweigh the production's other problems:
The other actors, however, are too often literally lost in the woods. Douglas Grinn's set consists of numerous faux trees, so the actors have few choices but to scurry around, between and behind them.

Even the often-terrific Carolyn Johnson struggles to give Asher's cardboard characters more than two dimensions.
Brandon K. Thorp reviewed the show for the Miami New Times. And his experience of the play seems to be markedly different than Christine's:
The M Ensemble, the nation's oldest black theater company, produces many biopics like A Woman Called Truth, and knows how to choose the good ones.

...Truth is unpredictable, eerie, and absorbing.

Any time you get Christine Alexander, Carolyn Johnson, and Curtis Allen on a stage together, amazing things happen, no matter who is sharing the bill. Alexander's turn as Sojourner Truth is stylized, poised, seemingly young and old at the same time, and full of pain and resolve. Her singing voice is miraculous: a big, beautiful hurricane of an instrument, awe-inspiring and violent.

Carolyn Johnson looks matronly and respectable when she's offstage, but put her in front of an audience and she's deliciously perverse: Between her half-dozen characters, she cackles like a harpy; sputters and squeals like a woman in the final, fatal throes of terminal brain syphilis; dances like a bar wench; and for a few moments, summons up a heartbreaking tenderness as Sojourner's long-lost mum.

Allen's craft gives way to deeper reactions somewhere in the gut. Watch him cowering in a courtroom, when, as Sojourner's six-year-old son, he is torn between recognizing his mother and obeying his master's command to keep silent. You can see Allen's grown-up biceps and massive pecs, but they don't register at all; on every level, you respond to the sight as though he were a child. Like A Woman Called Truth itself, it is utterly remarkable — and powerful enough to render the visage's incongruities meaningless.
More reviews will be added as they become available.


Christine Dolen's Critic's Pick.

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