Harlem Theatre Arts Festival Opens With Magic and Empowerment on Stage: Review of POOF by Lynn Nottage
Last Saturday, George Faison’s renowned Firehouse Theater was filled with Harlem residents for the third installment of the five plays presented as part of the new Harlem Theater Arts Festival.
All the stars aligned for the production team led by by Arts and Entertainment Alliance President, Joan Allen, Jackie Jeffries of the National Black Theater in conjunction with Voza Rivers of New Heritage Theatre Group and The Negro Ensemble Company.
The HTAF partnered with local theaters including The Dwyer Cultural Center, The National Black Theater, and the Faison Firehouse Theater to produce, promote, and document the work of black playwrights and artists.
Poof, a one act play by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, Lynn Nottage begins with an argument overheard between a husband and wife. Whether it was a happy theater accident of a stage tech standing downstage of the light, or a deliberate choice by Director, Charles Weldon, the shadow of a man loomed large center stage casting an ominous presence at the top of the show.
As the argument peaks, threats are heard, lights flicker and the character of Laureen, convincingly portrayed by Kimberlyn Crawford is left on stage agape at the incredible rebuttal she just bellowed at her husband. Lying at the edge of the stage is a pile of ash with cheap eyeglasses on top. Laureen searches the house for her husband, and upon discovering that he is gone, begins an emotional journey to make sense of what has happened. She stares at the pile of ash not knowing whether to laugh or cry.
For counsel and sanity check she invites her friend Florence played by CJ Williams over to survey the pile of ash. “He exploded in front of me!” Laureen tells her. Florence pours them both a strong drink. They don’t spend too much trying to figure out how it happened. Laureen surmises, “I’m a witch!”
Florence is more concerned with the fact that she still has to go home to her own detested husband. Turns out they had a pact to leave their husbands together. Laureen wonders if she should call someone. Florence quips that all she needs now is a dustpan.
This remarkable story of two women’s friendship, and the strength it took for one of them to break free of an abusive relationship was deeply felt by everyone in the audience including State Representative Theresa Freeman.
At the end of the show Representative Freeman was invited onstage with the producers to bestow a special honor, the key to Harlem, and an official recognition by Congressman Charlie Rangel for actress, singer, and upcoming reality TV star, Dhonna Goodale. Ms. Goodale was presented with the HTAF Champion for Change award for her work as a crusader and spokesperson against domestic violence.
This short piece packed a punch in part due to the fact that Weldon directed the actresses to really take their time exploring each moment, and making it real and connected. The pacing was careful and deliberate as they visibly and authentically experienced the range of emotions spurred by this magical event.
The stage was filled with dramatic tension the entire show because the two actresses remained engaged with each other and wrestled with the incredibility of their reality.
The character show us that words have meaning. Goodale pointed out that silence has meaning too. Her presence at this play was a reminder of the importance of speaking up the first time to address physical or emotional abuse, whenever it is witnessed.