DVA Productions, Inc.
Directed by Tyrone King
Assistant Director – Brad Lowrance
Stage Manager – Aaron Petite
ASM/Prop Mistress – Nikki Washington
Light Design – Nikki Deshea
Set Design – David Ruffin
Sound Design – Tyrone King
Light/Sound Tech – Kriston Royal
Costumes – Sheran Keyton/Tyrone King
Woman # 1 – Alexandra Ezell
Woman # 2 – Sheran Goodspeed Keyton
Woman # 3 – Liz Mikel
Woman # 1 – Understudy/Miss Mag/Delta Queen Dancer
Reviewed Performance 3/25/2016
Reviewed by Joel Taylor, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Directed by Tyrone King, From the Mississippi Delta, is set in in the mid 1940’s to mid 1960’s, in Greenwood, Mississippi. The story revolves around Ida Mae Holland, called “Phelia”by her mother, also named Ida Mae who was also more familiarly called “ Ain’t Baby”. The story begins with Phelia living in a drafty shotgun house in the Greenwood, Mississippi delta area, and follows her as she pursues her dream of escaping the impoverished delta community where African Americans often lived in fear of their lives and lynchings, rapes and fire bombings were commonplace in the 1040’s and 1950’s, the timeframe of the story.
Under Kings direction, the story is told on stage in various scenes and vignettes that emphasize various significant events in the lives of “Ain’t Baby” and “Phelia”. The script and scenes are infused with cultural local phrases and euphemisms that would have more meaning to people familiar with the local or cultural speech. However, it does depict the life and culture of the time period and location. Throughout the telling of the story, the three actors on stage sing either together or separately, fittingly, using Blues style music. Noteworthy scenes in the story that emphasize the culture and difficult times for Ida Mae in particular and black people in general, include scenes that depict “Ain’t Baby” ironing the clothes of white women to make a living for the family. Other significant scenes included when an older “Ain’t Baby” throws bricks at someone for trespassing over her property. As well as when “Phelia” tries to get a job as an exotic dancer in a circus in order to earn money. Culminating in “Phelia” moving away to go “up north” to go to college and eventually graduate with a Ph.D. While there are many scenes that are touching and poignant, there are a few scenes that were awkward to watch either because of the content of the scene or how the scene was presented. Such as the scene in which “Ain’t Baby” goes to a home to deliver a baby in what the audience is led to believe a breach delivery. During this scene, while one of the actors is narrating the scene on stage, part of the backdrop is opened to show shadow figures that represented a pregnant woman with “Ain’t Baby” between her legs assisting with the delivery, while mumbling and saying nonsense words. This scene was awkward and uncomfortable to watch as much for the content as well as the way that the scene was performed. .
While the story was culturally very rich and entertaining, at times I was lost and confused in the telling of the story. At times the story was told in a linear manner, going from beginning to end and at times it jumped forward in time or backward in time. Which, occasionally, made it difficult to follow.
The show is performed in the Black Box theatre at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center. The design for this show in this space was created by David Ruffin. Ruffin, created a set that is situated about midway between the back wall and the seating area for the audience. Ruffians set design includes what appears to be a long wall of black curtains, with two areas that are each about one third of the way across the set that allow curtains to open to, with an obscured view, a room inside of the building. The outside of the building has an area for a porch on a house. The set is designed and constructed to depict multiple locations.
The costumes designed by Sheran Keyton and Tyrone King start with a basic black, ankle length dress worn by each of the actors. Depending on which of the many characters that each actor is playing, she may also wear an apron, men's jacket and hat, stole, scarf or hairpiece. All of which are appropriate for the time period of the story and seem a natural part of the character being portrayed.
Nikki Deshea creates a light design that uses blues, Amber, spot lights as appropriate and blends the lighting to emphasize the scene and mood of the situation on stage.
Alexandria Ezell as Woman #1. Which, primarily is the role of Phelia and a few other ancillary characters. The show opens with Ezell sitting on the stage in an area that resembles the front porch area. As the lights come on, she is sitting on stage looking young and vulnerable as she begins to sing with a light, yet strong voice that carries over the audience with sincerity. Soon, she is joined by the voices of Sheran Goodspeed Keyton and Liz Mikel, as each comes on stage. The voices of three actors blend well in harmony while still retaining a unique sound belonging to that individual actor. Ezell primarily plays the young Phelia in the story. She gives Phelia a convincing innocence in the scenes where Phelia is a young child and adds a layer of sultry sexiness in later scenes when Phelia is a teenager and works as an exotic dancer in a circus that has stopped in town. Ezell demonstrates vocal and acting skills that keeps the attention of the audience. However, when she is on stage and in scenes with the more experienced Mikel and Keyton, she was overshadowed in most scenes.
Sheran Goodspeed Keyton plays Woman #2. As this character, Goodspeed Keyton plays multiple roles that include a more mature Phelia and various characters that include a drunken man that gets hit by a brick thrown by “Ain’t Baby” in a scene. In each scene in which she is present, Keyton commands the stage with her strong characterization and rich vocals. During the story, she adds layers of comedy as well as seriousness, depending on the scene. In the scene in which she plays the drunken man that intrudes onto “Ain’t Baby’s” property, she portrayed the character with such reality that Mikel, playing Ain’t Baby began to laugh. During the scene, I commented to someone nearby that this scene reminded me of the touching and humorous scenes found on the Carol Burnett shows.
Liz Mikel plays the role of Woman # 3. Mikel primarily plays the role of Ain’t Baby throughout the story. Watching Mikel on stage is a treat. She becomes the character that she is portraying. With each character that she plays on stage, she becomes that character in every visible and verbal aspect. This includes the changes in posture, voice, walk, and physical characteristics. While on stage and in character, Mikel speaks volumes without having to say a word.
Individually, each of the actors brings the audience into the place and feeling of the “Blues” when they sing. When they blend their vocals and the sounds blend and wind around each other it is like being in a professional concert. The show tells the story of the often unrecognized Black Women that raised children, put food on the table and took care of families in difficult times. This show helps us recognize and give tribute to the unsung mothers, wives, sisters and daughters that persevere through trials and tribulations to keep families together and culture alive.
FROM THE MISSISSIPPI DELTA
DVA PRODUCTIONS INC, 1300 Gendy, Fort Worth, Texas 76107
Through April 2, 2016. Thursday–Saturday 8PM - $25, Saturday–3PM $20, For information and to purchase tickets go to www.dvaproductions.org or call 817-313-3052