Theater for the New City Hosts the NY Premiere Of COLORSTRUCK By Donald E. Lacy, Jr.
From February 28 to March 17, Theater for the New City will present comedian/actor/broadcaster Donald E. Lacy Jr. in the New York debut of his one man show, "ColorStruck." The play was born in California's Bay Area and has been presented on college campuses around the country and at the National Black Theatre Festival. It was performed twice for the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus.
The piece begins as a comedic autobiography of a sensitive, light-skinned African American man growing up in Oakland during the height of the Black Pride movement. It recounts how, as a child, Lacy was shunned by some people in the black community for not being dark enough and ostracized by some members in the white community for being too dark. It develops into an examination of how cultural assumptions underlie institutionalized racism and how they make us judge people by the color of their skin and not the content of their character. Director is Sean San Jose; soundscape and music are by Grammy nominee Tommy Soulati Shepherd.
Born light-skinned to a dark-skinned African-American family in 1960s Oakland, Donald E. Lacy, Jr. was taunted by other boys as a half breed and grew up with a heightened sensitivity to race and the feelings of alienation and ostracism. It was the time when the Black Pride was enveloping young African Americans and Oakland was one of its epicenters. Lacy's comedy is rooted in the conundrum of expressing Black pride and consciousness while not appearing obviously Black to the naked eye. In "ColorStruck," he reflects on the infernal constancy of racism in America while waxing fondly on emblems of the black experience, including hairstyles, pop culture memes and myths of family life. He employs comedy, drama, improvisation, dance, tone poems, hip-hop and current events to deepen our understanding. The audience is encouraged to sing along and to engage each other. Each performance is followed by a post-play discussion.
Lacy's gift is in using humor as an icebreaker to bring all races to the racial colloquy. Since the current head of state provides a never-ending supply of new material, the piece is continually reshaped.
The earliest version of "ColorStruck" first appeared in 2007 in Oakland and was staged that year at the National Black Theater Festival. It was performed at the 2007 Congressional Black Caucus at the invitation of Congresswoman Barbara Lee and returned for an encore in 2008. A later version of "ColorStruck," chronicling the Obama Presidency as part of the Conversations In Color Tour, premiered at the Conference of Race and Pedagogy in September 2014 at the University of Puget Sound. Since that time, the piece has been performed in over 20 college-based theaters and performing arts centers across the country. This is the play's New York premiere.
Lacy is a Bay Area-based actor, standup comic, broadcaster, activist, and playwright. He founded the LoveLife Foundation (www.lovelifefoundation.org) in 1997 as a tribute to his slain 16 year-old daughter, a victim of random urban gun violence. He felt he had a score to settle, not with the boys who mistakenly took his daughter's life, but against the poverty, hopelessness, misguided anger and other forces that devour young lives. The organization offers programs for young people including mentoring, a school safety program, training in video/radio production and theater performance, civic engagement, town hall meetings, public service announcements and vigils to remember young people slain on the streets. The foundation and Mr. Lacy have received about 27 civic and government awards and citations to-date.
Lacy's daughter was named LoEshe' Adanma, In Ibo/Nigerian, LoEshe' means love life and Adanma means daughter of beauty. In 1997, LoEshe' and a girlfriend since childhood caught a ride after school in a van driven by a young man. He was attacked by four assailants who fired several shots into the vehicle, aiming at him. The intended target and LoEshe's girlfriend, while wounded, survived. LoEshe' did not. Now Lacy relates that the LoveLife Foundation was LoEshe's idea. Three months before her death, she had endured the death of a friend and asked her father to help her write a play about stopping the violence. "She is an amazing spirit," he says.
After her death, Lacy bonded with other parents who'd had similar experiences. One bereaved father warned Lacy that his anger would annihilate him unless he channeled it into something productive. Now, Lacy attends a steady stream of meetings with city leaders, community organizers and youth groups and appears on TV and radio to speak out on youth violence. He frequents City Council meetings and lectures high schoolers on staying safe and being alive. He has achieved local celebrity status. "LoveLife" was adopted in 2016 as the official motto of the city of Oakland and Lacy was a commencement speaker at Berkeley City College in 2017.
A few months ago, Van Jones and a CNN film crew accompanied Lacy to capture his first meeting with the man convicted of murdering his 16 year old daughter. Lacy forgave him on camera to set an example to all people that forgiveness is possible. Lacy also attended his parole hearing several months later and spoke on his behalf. The parole was granted and the shooter, now remorseful, was released over a month ago. Lacy hopes to appear with him at future speaking engagements. The CNN special will air this February or March.
Reviewing "ColorStruck" in 2008, critic William S. Kowinski, writing in The North Coast Journal (Humboldt County, CA), cheered the show writing, "It's worth celebrating that while our society is getting more diverse, race matters less to young people. Those facts don't necessarily go together. But this brings with it an embarrassed but damaging silence on racism that still does exist. Lacy's show is one of the few opportunities to bring these realities to light, and it does so effectively, while being an entertaining piece of theatre." Audience testimonials have described it as enlightening, uplifting and long overdue. Since the play touches on topics including The Black Panthers, Rodney King, OJ, Katrina and the symbolism of King Kong, many elder audience members prize it for exposing younger audiences to history they may have never learned.
Donald E. Lacy, Jr. is a writer, director, actor, comedian, radio talk show host, and activist. In 2018 the Studio City Film Festival created the Donald E. Lacy, Jr. Social Justice Award, to be awarded to filmmakers whose films address social issues. In 2017 he was awarded the Legacy award from Theater Bay Area for his artistic and activist achievements. As a comedian, he was inducted into the Bay Area Blues society Hall of Fame in 2013. He earned BA's in Theater Arts (with a film minor) and Black Studies from San Francisco State University. His T.V./Film acting credits include: "Cherry" with James Franco, NBC's "Trauma," "Jack" directed by Francis Ford Coppola, "Blood In, Blood Out" directed by Taylor Hackford, "L.A. Heat," ABC's "Hangin' with Mr. Cooper" and CBS's "Wolf." His recent stage credits include Wynton in "The Royale" at the Aurora Theater and Gabriel in August Wilson's "Fences" at California Shakespeare Theater. From 1980 to 2018, he hosted a Saturday morning radio show on KPOO (89.5-FM), a black-owned community radio station in San Francisco. In that show, he interviewed such luminaries as Gil Scott-Heron, Dr. Angela Davis, Phyllis Hymen Dick Gregory and August Wilson.
His produced plays include "The Loudest Scream You'll Never Hear," based on the Atlanta child murders. In 2013, as a response to the Trayvon Martin murder, he created another solo show, "How Did The World Get Here?" He also premiered a solo show, "LoEshe'," about the life and untimely death of his daughter, at the 1998 Afro Solo Festival. He has written three feature films, received a Bay Area Cable Excellence Award and a Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame Award for his PSA, "Precious Gift." He toured 75 cities with the Harlem Globetrotters as "The Voice." As a comedian he has appeared on BET's "Comic View" and HBO's "Def Comedy Jam." He has appeared in clubs from Chicago to Kasiserslauten, Germany and entertained the troops in a Far East USO tour. He was inducted into the Bay Area Blues Society Hall of Fame as a comedian/emcee in 2013. He has two sons and lives with his wife in the Bay Area.
Mr. Lacy is active in Campo Santo, a performance group in San Francisco, and appears in its current production, "Candlestick" by Bennett Fisher, which is playing January 23 to February 3 at American Conservatory Theatre (ACT). The play is set among 49ers fans tailgating during the team's final season at Candlestick Park in 2013. It explores change in the Bay Area community, especially for Black and Brown folks, through the symbolism of the team moving from the Black neighborhood of Bayview down into the gut of Silicon Valley.
Lacy writes, "I am grateful to Crystal Field and I am extremely excited to have my New York premiere of ColorStruck at the historic Theater for the New City. I have wanted for years to bring my show to New York and I feel fortunate for this amazing opportunity to perform it at a theater with such a rich and profound history of presenting work that moves the human race forward."
Director Sean San José has collaborated with Mr. Lacy since 2000. He is co-Founder of Campo Santo, a performances company for people of color in San Francisco. For 15 years he was Program Director of Performance for Intersection for the Arts, San Francisco's oldest alternative arts space. He co-created Alma Delfina Group-Teatro Contra el SIDA and "Pieces of the Quilt," a collection of 50+ short plays on AIDS. He teaches in the Theater, Dance and Performance Studies Department at University of California at Berkeley. San José has also directed Richard Montoya and Culture Clash's "Sapo" for the Getty Museum in Malibu, multiple plays for Magic Theatre in San Francisco and the deYoung Museum in San Francisco, and for Youth Speaks at University of California at Berkeley, San José State University, and more. His writing commissions and productions include "Play On!" for Oregon Shakespeare Festival, American Conservatory, Ictus Productions, Kronos Quartet, and others. He has created original theatrical works from the prose writings of Jimmy Santiago Baca, Junot Diaz, Dave Eggers, Jessica Hagedorn Denis Johnson, Luís Saguar, Vendela Vida and more.
Tommy Soulati Shepherd (soundscape, music) is the GRAMMY-nominated Music Director of Alphabet Rockers and is internationally renowned for his beatboxing, which is featured in Oakland-based a capella super group Antique Naked Soul. He has toured internationally in hip hop theater productions of Campo Santo and Dan Wolf and is a co-founder of Felonious, a hip hop collective. Shepherd has performed and toured internationally with Marc Bamuthi Joseph, collaborating on "Scourge," "The Break/s," "Spoken World" and "Red, Black and Green: a Blues."
For tickets go to the show's website, www.colorstruckplay.com.
Photo by Auintard Henderson