BWW Review: AIN'T I A WOMAN PLAYFEST 2019 at Russell Theatre
The Ain't I A Women Playfest is one of the most ambitious theatre initiatives to be birthed in Louisville; a call to women playwrights of color for original short plays that speak, as new plays must, to the time in which they are written.
Statistically, we find that 6.1% of plays produced in this country were written by WOC, although who is being asked the question is always a factor. Festival founder Janelle Renee Dunn produces this effort independently, but one hopes her position in the education department of Actors Theatre of Louisville affords an opportunity for this group of seven short plays to be included in the next count.
The seven plays are well organized to build in quality as the evening proceeds, so it follows that the strongest arrived after intermission.
Dana Stringers Ms. Management makes some good observations about gender equity and responsibility in the business world but could use a little more craft in the writing. The overbearing middle manager changes her tune too sharply to be believed, but there was some clever and knowing satire contained in the "BPHP (Black Person in High Position) Syndrome" lecture that cautions against forgetting from whence you came as you climb the corporate ladder.
School Haze, by Molly Olitz Krost, uses a detention period to examine the vicious gender dynamics of teenage social order, but I wish it had something more to say.
Takayla Williams' A Little Piece of Heaven shifts into a darker tone with a thoughtful consideration of depression and dares to imagine that hopelessness is sometimes inevitable. More than any of the other pieces in the program, it felt like 10 minutes that desperately wants another or more to find its fullest potential.
The energy and quality of the performance picked up measurably in What About the Children, by Sharai Bohannon. Hilary Ford and Owen Kresse put teeth into an argument between an ICE officer and his wife, even if it could not help but feel like a didactic exorcism.
A pointed critique of racist exclusion in mass entertainment made Homies a highlight. Writer La "Needra Lulu" Cornelius postulates that a cast of color for Friends or Seinfeld would have guaranteed a quick cancellation. It was easily the funniest piece of the evening and the ensemble seemed to be having a good time.
Unnerving Stains, by Tramaine Brathwaite moved again into very dark territory, a psychological detective story searching for the source of a stained floor being scrubbed by Stacey Louise Hopson. The revealed truth of the matter is pure horror movie, and Ms. Hopson's work here is anguished, tortured, and heartfelt.
Nina Ki's Mr. Fluffles visits familiar ground but with fresh insight. It charmingly updates the notion of an adult revisited by the imaginary (?) friend of childhood with a contemporary sensibility for LGBTQA+ identity and 21st-century angst. Everett Ezell is top-notch as the title character, alternately silly and endearing, while Sydney Meyer does excellent work as the young woman surprised to find the wise bunny was indeed very real.
The impact of the individual performances is mixed, but generally very good, with a few standouts as previously mentioned.
Issues of gender, race, and inclusion are bound to be a part of such a festival, but some of the strongest writing here steps away from the preachy to remind us of things that cross boundaries to unite us.
Featuring Delane Bracken, Gwendolyn Evans, Everett Ezell, Hilary Ford, Alexander Griggs, Stacey Louise Hopson, Lesli Harad, Owen Kresse, James Stringer, Jr., Tyler Tate, & Morgan Younge.
2nd Annual Ain't I A Woman Playfest
July 26 - 28, 2019
17th & Madison
Louisville, KY 40203