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BWW Review: dwb (driving while black) film at UrbanArias

dwb is the premiere filmed version of the opera by the same name Susan Kander and Roberta Gumbel.

BWW Review: dwb (driving while black) film at UrbanArias
Soprano Karen Slack, surrounded by trio of dancers, in Urban Arias' dwb (driving while black).
Photo by Sylvester Finch.

The title and content of this filmed opera reminded me of a friend with a young biracial relative. Whenever he ventures out, whether by foot or car, his mother provides him with a letter explaining who he is and asserting that his purpose is benevolent in case the police may approach him.

While any young person may be suspect, a black coming of age in a society still riddled with racism and inequality will be more so.

Yet, the protective mother at the heart of this film believes in her "beautiful brown boy," as he believes in his own sought-after independence.

Both points are made through a number of vignettes in dwb (driving while black)

The proverbial mother in the first vignette has just given birth and finds security in her home. She cannot control, however, the dangerous world outside. Her son may be misunderstood; his hoodie or his very presence may be given an unintended meaning.

Dwb is the premiere filmed version of the opera by the same name Susan Kander and Roberta Gumbel. Presented by UrbanArias, now celebrating its 10th anniversary. UrbanArias is an opera company dedicated to producing short - 90 minutes or less - contemporary operas.

A solo chamber opera, dwb derives much of its power from the voice of soprano Karen Slack, starring as the various mothers. Slack, who has sung with the Metropolitan Opera and Washington National Opera, among other prestigious opera houses, moves easily from lyric to dramatic sounds and offers theatrical skills to boot.

A two-musician ensemble - composed of cellist Rosanna Butterfield and percussionist Eric Plewinski - is conducted by Robert Wood. Known as an innovator in opera, Wood founded UrbanArias in 2009.

Du'Bois A'keen directed and choreographed the film; Camry A'Keen was the creative director. Both have drawn on their extensive operatic, choreographic, and film backgrounds to bring elements of modern dance and music video production.

A trio of modern dancers - Yeman Brown, Tweet Kay, and Nicole Morris - add to the poignancy of the vignettes.

The only question I had was their odd costumes, white and veiled, with a Middle Eastern touch.

Running Time: 40 minutes.

The premiere of dwb (driving while black) took place April 30 and is available to stream for six months. Tickets for the public cost $15 and can be purchased here.


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