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runs this weekend only through June 25th

Review: FADE TO BLACK PLAY FESTIVAL at MATCH This year we are celebrating a decade of the FADE TO BLACK - PLAY FESTIVAL, and it couldn't be more appropriate timing. In a week that started with Juneteenth and ends with Pride, you couldn't ask for better dates for Houston's only showcase for African-American Playwrights. This program consists of ten ten minute plays that display the vast theatrical talent in Houston from directors, actors, and tech crews. They all come together for one weekend to debut these works from unique voices that seem to matter now more than ever. The Black community has a lot to say, and this year's FADE TO BLACK gives them the megaphone to do it.

Reviewing ten plays with ten casts is an impossible task, and I am not foolish enough to even try. I was lucky enough to attend a final dress rehearsal of this year's production, and suffice to say I was entertained from start to finish. There is not one work that is not surprising and well produced in all ten of them. The joy of getting to see some of the best actors in Houston putting on new works is indescribable. It is a collection of pieces that will challenge any audience member of any walk of life to reflect and enjoy.

In the first half alone you have plays that address the intimacy of best friends, the struggle of pending marriages, robots replacing spouses, caring for the elderly, and a recreation of Hattie McDaniel about to accept the first Oscar for the Black community. The second section reaches even further traversing an acidly funny costume drama, addressing racism in the 50s through Eugene Bullard's eyes, sending up performative allyship, questioning light skinned identity, and finally a comic take on infidelity. It is a surprisingly wide swath of topics that are delved into, and they create a satisfying whole for an evening of theater.

Two of the best performances of the evening come from Destyne Miller and James West III who get to play the historical figures of Hattie McDaniel and Eugene Ballard. They both are so poignant in bringing these two figures to life for the audience, and I was amazed to see them do so. Their segments were written by playwrights Krystle Dellihue and Eric C. Jones. It is interesting to note the speech Hattie gives onstage recreates the exact wording of her speech at the 1939 Oscars.

Another interesting segment comes from playwright Calley N. Anderson entitled "Performative". It shows a self-congratulatory white woman smugly purchasing a Kamala Harris book in a Black owned bookstore. Actors Tara Okopie and Jordan Crow worked with director Kim Tobin-Lehl to bring this one to life. It asks hard questions about allies, and the scene has a polished clip to it thanks to both the whip smart writing as well as the perfectly paced performances.

Christian Wilburn and Natalie Gordon both provide the funniest pieces of the night with "White Card" and "Hey, Best Friend!". Both are hysterical, and offer valid points on their subjects. "Forbidden Places" by Joe A. Lewis has a surprising science fiction twist to it. "Busted" from Corey Shields is a great ending to the evening with a comical punch.

All of the actors are strong, and as an ensemble FADE TO BLACK represents the best talent Houston has to offer. They are gifted in any genre they attempt, and it is a small army of players that would be impossible to single out or breakdown performance by performance. The tech aspects are fast and furious, but somehow with simplified sets and projections the crew manages to leap through at least a dozen settings and more with agility and grace. It is safe to say this is a great festival, and well worth your time over the weekend. Happy ten years to FADE TO BLACK! Here's hoping for many more decades to come.

This year's festival is being held at the MATCH complex in Midtown Houston. It is only running June 23rd through the 25th. It is historically a popular event, so I suggest getting tickets through the MATCH's website before attending a performance. Masks are not required but encouraged. The show runs roughly an hour for each act, and has an intermission.

From This Author - Brett Cullum

Brett Cullum has been part of the Houston and Memphis Theatre scenes for several decades now. He's been seen on community theatre and professional stages in several cities including Playhouse 1960,... (read more about this author)

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