BWW Review: Book-It Examines the Birth of an Icon with I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS
Easily one of the most influential American writers of our time, Maya Angelou beyond being an amazing poet an author was also an outspoken civil rights activist and icon for our age. Book-It Repertory has done honor to this fine woman with their current production of her autobiography "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings".
The book chronicles Angelou's childhood from age three through the birth of her son as she and her brother (played as children by Aishé Keita and Chip Sherman) are shuttled from home to home living with their Mother (Dedra D. Woods) at times, their Father (Lamar Legend) at others and often with their Grandmother and Uncle (Shaunyce Omar and Ronnie Hill). During her journey an adult Maya played by Brennie Tellu narrates the tale as young Maya discovers her love for books and poetry and encounters several diverse people who influence her life, some for the better and some in horrifying ways. Maya manages to keep her childlike wonder and optimism through it all even in the face of bitter racism and sexual assault.
The adaptation of Angelou's iconic work is beautifully handled by Myra Platt and Malika Oyetimein and truly captures the journey of this amazing woman and highlights how she became who she was. And the staging from director Oyetimein manages a wonderful flow of the piece keeping that journey going and I must mention some stunning staging of the aforementioned assault that was handled quite well without ever becoming gratuitous.
The ensemble cast, many of whom play multiple characters throughout, are outstanding. Tellu handles the narration and driving force of the piece well and commits to the iconic speech pattern of Angelou without going into a bad impression of her. Keita shows some beautiful range as she goes from age 3 to 17 and her arc is remarkable. And her moments of inner conflict during the trial of her attacker are an absolute stunner. Sherman too turns in some great range as he grows up alongside young Maya and their chemistry and relationship is palpable. And I must mention two other outstanding performances. Omar brings in two very different yet equally formidable women making her a delight to watch and her "handling" of the Dentist is worth the price of admission. And Hill's take on each of his characters could not be more individual each with their own rich qualities especially his graceful handling of the handicapped Uncle Willie and the predatory Mr. Freeman.
The show is a triumph with a beautiful framework for telling the narrative and an incredible cast. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Book-It Repertory Theatre's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" an enlightened YAY. A well-done tribute to one of the great figures of our time.
"I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" from Book-It Repertory Theatre performs at the Center Theatre through October 15th. For tickets or information contact the Book-It box office at 206-216-0833 or visit them online at www.book-it.org.