Don’t forget the legacy of the Hon. Marcus Mosiah Garvey (b. 8/17/1887-6/10/1940) this Black August. There is an annual program at Marcus Books in Oakland, Sunday, Aug. 20, 12:30-3:30 p.m. Happy Birthday to Karla Brundage (8/29), Cousin Jeffery Lewis (8/29), Gene Howell, Jr. and to all the ancestors lost in the Great Storm—Katrina (8/29/2005), and to those still swimming home on rafts and other flotilla. Follow the light.
Solar Eclipse August 21
There is a solar eclipse August 21. The best place to view the eclipse in the western hemisphere is in Salem, Oregon. If you can’t get away, locally, the event will be livestreamed. This article has a list of events in the Bay Area: http://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/article/How-to-watch-next-month-s-eclipse-if-you-aren-t-11401240.php
James Forman Jr. at Marcus Books
James Forman Jr., attorney, educator, will be reading from his new book, “Locking Up Our Own; Crime and Punishment in Black America,” at Marcus Books, 3900 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, in Oakland, Sunday, August 13, 2-4 p.m.
AfroSolo Concert at Yerba Buena Gardens
This year at the Annual AfroSolo concert, features, Dr. David Hardiman Sr. Quintet and Charles Hamilton Quintet. The free concert is Saturday, August 5, 1-3 p.m. at The Esplanade, Yerba Buena Gardens. For information: 415.543.1718.
Million Prisoner’s March at the Nation’s Capital August 19
Saturday August 19, 11:30am-12:00 p.m. is the March; 12:00pm- 5:00 p.m. is the Rally at the White House (Lafayette Park), Pennsylvania Ave NW & 16th Street, Northwest, Washington, DC 20001 Visit http://www.iamweubuntu.com/millions-for-prisoners-human-rights.html (Look for information about solidarity marches throughout the country. In the SF Bay, one is being planned in San Jose).
Destiny Muhammad presents: Alice Coltrane: In Celebration of a Sonic Legacy
The celebration of Alice Coltrane’s work is Sunday, August 13, two shows: 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. at The Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, 1428 Alice Street, Oakland. For tickets visit: http://destinymuhammadproject.com/
Oakland Youth Art Explosion Festival, 1 p.m., Sunday, August 6, 2017
Admission is Free – Donations accepted at the Oakland Youth Art Explosion, 1 p.m. at Joyce Gordon Gallery, 406 14th Street, Oakland. The Youth Arts Festival will feature: Hip Hop and Jazz Bans Performances, Urban Youth Farmers Market, Live Painting Mural Projects, OYAE ‘Youth Cinema, Dance Group Performances, Spoken Word/Open Mic, Painting Workshop with Professional Artists, Youth Art Exhibits. For sponsorship, donations or info “Joyce Gordon Foundation of the Arts contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or 510-465-8928
African American Townhall
Barbara Lee hosts an African American Townhall, Wed., August 2, 6-7:30 p.m. at the Phillip Reeder Performing Arts Center at Castlemont High School, 8601 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland, Wednesday, August 2nd, 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm
Speakers: Congresswoman Barbara Lee, National Urban League President Marc Morial, and members of our community
Meadows Livingstone School Fundraiser: “A Night if Music and Culture,” Sat., Aug. 6, 7-9 p.m. at Freight & Salvage, 2020 Addison Street in Berkeley. Hosted by Reyna Amaya, the event features: Linda Tillery & the Cultural Heritage Choir, Jennifer Johns, Afia Walking Tree and Yele. For information call: 415.695.7735. Tickets are $40 in advance and $44.00 at the door. For over 30 years, the Meadows-Livingstone School has specialized in educating African-American children to reach their full academic, social, emotional and creative potential. The school solves Black parent’s dilemma: finding an academically challenging school that also cultivates their children’s self-respect. The school builds students’ strength through a holistic approach—teaching the whole child. It is a small school, fewer than 30 students, where teachers, students, parents and families are valued members of a caring community. Visit meadowslivingstoneschool.com
Azucar con Ache Farewell Show
Sunday, August 27, 2017 at Freight and Salvage, 2020 Addison Street, Berkeley, 7 p.m., Tickets are $20 in advance, $24 at the door. freightandsalvage.org or 510.644.2020
Black Butterflies, A Collaborative Youth Arts Project
Darren Canady’s play, directed by Lauren Spencer, is presented by A.C.T.’s Education & Community Programs and Young Conservatory, and Destiny Arts Center in Oakland. The play, which opened for a week run in San Francisco, continues in the East Bay, Thursday-Friday, August 4-5 at Destiny Arts Center, 970 Grace Avenue, Oakland. Visit destinyarts.org, 510.597.1619. It features a cast of youth from schools throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. The story is of the often forgotten girls, in this case: Aisha, Mercedes, and Dani, caught in the web of juvenile detention and what happens to them there. The youngest girl is 12, the oldest 18. There is no pretense, warehousing, not education is happening there, until the girls meet, Ms. Constance, the new teacher, who opens the girls’ eyes to their power through literature, what she calls her Brown Warriors: characters like Shug, Esperanza, and Winter, authors: Alice Walker, Sandra Cisneros, and Sistah Soldier.
Listen to an interview with the director and playwright rebroadcast July 28 at Wanda’s Picks Radio Canady says he takes much of his inspiration for the stories of the three girls from Monique Morris’s “Push Out: the Criminalization of Black Girls in School.” Opening night was awesome! Present were the many supporters such as teachers, Elizabeth Carter, author, Monique Morris, poets, Black Achilles, Madeline Clifford, Young Women’s Freedom Center, Youth Speaks, Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco, and Each One Reach One.
California Shakespeare Theater presents “black odyssey” by Marcus Gardley, directed by Eric Ting, August 9-September 3, 2017
Many of us have been waiting a long time to see Marcus Gardley’s masterpiece, “black odyssey,” in full production after the staged reading hosted by Lorraine Hansberry Theatre four years ago. I wish my friend, Hubert Collins were still alive. I remember his tears at the performance as he shared how moved he was by Ulysses’s journey.
Margo Hall and Aldo Billingslea are the only two members of that cast in the present production and at least Aldo character is different. Joining Margo and Aldo are: J. Alphonse Nicholson, Omozé Idehenre, Dawn L., Safiya Fredericks, Lamont Thompson, Michael Gene Sullivan, and Michael Curry to tell this remarkable story.
Based loosely on Greek playwright Homer’s “Odyssey,” this journey was one most in the audience recognized, yet perhaps had not articulated it so masterfully prior to this production. We know the trail of bones, whether it is Black Mary Wilkes following Aunt Ester Tyler: a former slave and a “soul-cleanser’s” instructions so that Citizen Bartlow can get right with himself in August Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean” or Great Aunt Tina (Athena) pleading with her dad, Great Grand Daddy Deus (Zeus) to talk to Great Grand Paw Sidin (Percedian) to save her kin from drowning.
It is interesting that like Wilson’s “Citizen,” Gardley’s “Ulysses Lincoln,” a Gulf War veteran who has blinded Polyphemus, a one eyed cyclops, Great Grand Paw Sidin’s or Poseidon’s son, which is why Sidin is trying to drown him, also has to go to the City of Bones. He needs to find his story or learn his history so he can get home.
As Ulysses Lincoln travels, he meets friends and foes – even family. Maps are etched in hands and he finds paths or trails similar to his own. These familiar markings make the journey, if not less harrowing, certainly more satisfying for Ulysses, who has been lost so long his memories are legends he shares with his new friend, Nella Pell. She saves his life.
Stranded people with limited rations are not the most sympathetic rescuers, but the child Nella Pell convinces her dad not to shoot him and her mom to let him stay.
There is a lot of water imagery, floods and heavy rains. Is it New Orleans after the levees break or some other water odyssey? Ulysses is at first confused, until he realizes that he is in the future, the journey a memory past, one previously inaccessible, thus the forced journey. He will not get a pass home until he knows where he comes from, not physically, which, when asked, he’d say New York City, but a deeper look at home as in who are his people? How many generations can he name? What ancestors’ stories does he carry in his bones?
Gardley writes of blood memories, trapped energy, clotted or stuck souls unable to get home. Ulysses meets a family floating on a roof – there is a flood and Artez and Alsendra Sabine wait as the water rises for the “government” to save them. Ulysses, a bit less optimistic, tries to get them to notice the water rising and abandon the hope of something outside themselves saving the couple and their daughter, Nella Pell.
What is blood but water? First blue and then when air hits it the color changes? The human body is 90 percent water and if the planet is a metaphor for our vehicles for this journey, then what does this memory-blood-water connection mean . . . (http://sfbayview.com/2013/05/wandas-picks-for-may-2013/).
Discounted ticket previews are August 9, 10, 11 at 8 p.m. with the Press Opening August 12 at 8 p.m. The show runs Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., and weekends, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Saturday Matinee at 2 p.m. Sunday Matinees at 4 p.m. Cal Shakes is located in the beautiful Bruns Amphitheater, 100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda (just off Highway 24 at the California Shakespeare Theater Way/Wilder Rd. exit, one mile east of the Caldecott Tunnel. There is a complimentary shuttle from Orinda BART beginning 2 hours before curtain. There is also complimentary parking onsite and the facility is wheelchair accessible.
Tickets start at $20 and there are many discounts, ranging from student, senior, group rates and the $20 preshow rush throughout the season. Call Cal Shakes’ Box Office at 510.548.9666 between noon and 2pm to purchase. Get tickets and information online at www.calshakes.org, or at the Bruns box office on the day of the performance (pending availability).
Ubuntu Theater Project Explores Revolutionary Themes at Its Fundraiser
For those who almost missed the provocative workshop production at Ubuntu Theatre: Tori Sampson’s This Land Was Made, directed by Williams Hodgson, the play has been extended one week, Friday-Sunday, August 4-6. There is a special fundraising performance, Sunday, August 6, 2 p.m. at the Brooklyn Preserve, 1433 12th Avenue, Oakland. Tickets are $15-45 online and pay what you can at the door.
Friday, August 4 at 7:15 p.m.
Spoken Word artists Bobbi Kindred, Leo Lyons, Jerrie Johnson and Nekela share selections and discuss their work at this pre-show panel hosted by Ubuntu company member Michael French.
Sunday, August 6 11 a.m.–6 p.m.
Following this special fundraising performance, join Ubuntu Theatre Project for a community panel with artist Randolph Belle, gallery owner Kelly Paschal-Hunter, and Oakland Voices’ Tony Daquipa.
Ubuntu Theater Project’s 2017 season looks at the themes of polarization, poverty and state sanctioned violence, whether this is sexual violence against undocumented women in Lisa Ramirez’s To the Bone or police brutality in Sampson’s story set in Oakland in 1967, at a time when police terror in black communities gave rise to the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. The village listens as the djali or griot tells us the story of Troy, UC Berkeley student who wants to be a judge, Sassy his girlfriend who is also a journalist, her mother Miss Trish, who is from Louisiana like Huey P. Newton who visits the restaurant Miss Trish owns, a restaurant-bar serving southern cuisine. Sassy also runs a barbershop there. Other characters are: Mr. Far, who owns an auto garage, Gail, Sassy’s friend and the girlfriend of her brother and Trish’s son—a Vietnam War casualty. There is also Drew, armchair revolutionary, who challenges Troy’s decision to stay within the system whenever he can.
The drama hinges on Troy’s desire to believe in justice when he experiences racially motivated violence. Well-programmed, he recites his constitutional rights like a catechism, yet the trauma he experiences after a beating almost breaks him. The setting is a beautiful circle where audience can sit just outside the window that is Miss Trish’s restaurant, bottles filled with color liquid sit on shelves, tables and chairs fill the space with room for dancing. The cast joins the audience from time to time, as roles are shed and taken on.
William Hartfield’s “Huey P. Newton” asks Troy questions he cannot answer as he places black Americans’ current situation into historic context. Newton gives Troy examples of people similarly oppressed and how they fought and won their liberation against the power structures threatening them. This political education and analysis causes Terrance White’s “Troy” to change despite himself. It is the incoherent fear that makes Troy act, almost without thought of the consequences that scares him the most. It is a volatile time for all. From scene to scene we are not certain who will be the next casualty. Though Newton is the catalyst for Troy’s transformation, Nathalie Autumn Bennett’s “Sassy” has been holding space for Troy’s development; she builds him up when he is ready to return his blackness to God for another skin. When filled with self-loathing, Troy shatters, she reassembles his scattered pieces. However, even Sassy has her limits and at that point Troy realizes to keep her, he is going to have to be a man and take responsibility for his actions. For information visit ubuntutheaterproject.com/this-land-was-made
One City, One Book 2017
San Francisco Public Library 13th Annual One City One Book selection is Black against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin, Jr.
“Black against Empire” is the first comprehensive overview and analysis of the history and politics of the Black Panther Party. “Black against Empire,” published by the University of California Press, is the winner of the American Book Award. The book has been banned by the CA Department of Corrections and CA inmates are currently forbidden to possess or read it.
Read Black against Empire this summer and join the SF Community this fall for the 13th Annual One City One Book program extravaganza.
Copies of Black against Empire will be featured in all San Francisco libraries and at bookstores around the city.
During September and October, look forward to book discussions, view themed exhibits, attend author talks and participate in many other events. One City One Book Exhibits and Events Guide coming soon.
Detroit, the film, opens August 4 Nationwide
Detroit, the film, directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal, looks at structural racism and how that powder keg set off the Wayne county community 50 years ago. The reasons then are uncannily similar today as under Trump’s administration, black life has fallen even lower on the Richter scale. Violence against black and brown people has not only escalated, it is encouraged. In a speech to law enforcement July 28 on Long Island, President Trump told police to treat suspects roughly. Referencing MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha) an international criminal gang he said: “Please don’t treat them too nice.” He told city government he was happy they were becoming more militarized and that combat weapons armory tanks were literally flying off Pentagon shelves.
Then and now, if a person has black skin he or she is game for the hunt. The film does not spare its audience the gruesome details. We watch youngsters gunned down, beaten senseless, shot in the back and killed. Detroit focuses its attention on the incident at the Algiers Motel during the first two of five days of civil unrest, July 23-24, 1967 dubbed by some, “The 12th Street Riot.”
The 12th Street Riot starts after a late night, early morning police raid on an illegal afterhour’s club. 82 people were arrested. The party was to honor two black soldiers returning home from war. As the police filled one wagon after another, those citizens watching were angry at the treatment of their friends. Fed up with the structural and systemic violence leveled at the community for no other reason than their blackness, onlookers attempt to burn the city down over a period of five (5) days where the Michigan State Police, the Michigan Army National Guard are assigned to bring order. Later in an independent investigation,
At the Algiers Motel incident three black teens were shot and killed by white policemen while nine others, two white women and seven black men were beaten and humiliated by Detroit police. The Algiers Motel incident held as suspect Detroit Police officers on duty at the time and a black private security guard who was witness to almost all the events. “In the five days and nights of violence 33 blacks and 10 whites were killed, 1,189 were injured and over 7,200 people were arrested. Approximately 2,500 stores were looted and the total property damage was estimated at about $32 million. Until the riots following the death of Dr. Martin Luther King in April 1968, the Detroit Race Riot stood as the largest urban uprising of the 1960s” (blackpast.org). The weekend the film opened was the 100th anniversary of the Silent March, the largest march against racial injustice in the United States. It was in protest against the East St. Louis Race Riots where black people: men, women and children were indiscriminately attacked by white mobs. Its centennial (7/2/1917) was honored the same weekend Detroit opened at select theatres (blackpast.org).
The film, starring John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jason Mitchell, John Krasinski and Anthony Mackie, is 143 minutes and has MPAA Rating: R (for strong violence and pervasive language). Here is a short clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsANKUwfETs
On the Fly:
Ashkenaz Music and Dance Center has great shows all the time, as does La Pena Cultural Center. SFJAZZ has a great line-up this Fall Season too. Also check out Oakland Public Conservatory, Cal Performances, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, AfroSolo 2017, Impact HUB Oakland, MoAD-SF, Fine Arts Museums, SOMarts Gallery’s The Black Woman is God through August 20. , Museum of Capitalism in Oakland, Art and Soul Festival in Oakland, August 19-20; Jazz on Sundays in August at Golden Gate Library in Oakland, 5606 San Pablo Avenue, 3-6 p.m.
A Black Heaven: A Review of Marcus Gardley’s black odyssey at Cal Shakes through Sept. 3
By Wanda Sabir
Marcus Gardley’s “black odyssey,” currently on stage at Cal Shakes in Orinda, translates the Black Holocaust into modern language. Gardley takes an oral history, Homer’s Grecian hero’s tale, then ruptures and reinterprets it so the folks submerged in the waters of confusion gain clarity. Those ancestors at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean are resurrected in “Ulysses Lincoln”—a hero and a warrior. Though the journey takes longer than expected, Ulysses tells Nella Pell (Penelope) that he will be back before their child is born – the key here, is the promise of return.
Can Nella hold onto that? Is Ulysses’s promise enough to keep their boy safe and free? Will Ulysses come home in time to save his family from the vendetta Great Grand Paw Sidin (actor Aldo Billingslea) plans for the murderer of his son?
Gardley’s Ulysses transforms, translates or reinterprets his people’s story(s) into a parlance his generation can understand. Similar to other transcontinental journeys with linguistic resonance—Africans had to make meaning from context clues, necessity birthing new relationships, survival paramount for the group. It is in this spirit that Ulysses (actor J. Alphonse Nicholson) offers to take Benevolence Nausicca Sabine (actress Safiya Fredericks) to higher ground to repay the reluctant kindness of her parents: Artex Sabine (actor Michael Gene Sullivan) and Alsendra Sabine (actress Dawn L. Troupe). Floating on a rooftop, the water rising—it does not look like the government is coming to save black people past or present who find themselves caught in a hurricane real or symbolic.
If ever a story pointed to the inevitability of life and the choices we make, “black odyssey” is an intellectual argument against freewill. How many of our choices are connected to a legacy we do not understand? Human beings think they are acting alone, but as we see through Ulysses’s lineage, there is a whole posse ready to get down on his behalf and do from his Great Aunt Tina (Athena) to his blind ancestor who tells him to listen to his dreams—ancestral wisdom lives there. We also see the opposing force (Paw Sidin), who though kin to Ulysses is nonetheless ready to chop his head off.
“black odyssey” crosses landscapes—designer, Michael Locher’s set a large ruin, concrete pillars reminders of the black removal in Oakland, shelter-less wayfarers living in similar decay—under freeways, in fields, bus shelters – in doorways, on park benches. It is spiritual warfare and the innocent are armed with whispered songs—invisible ancestors dancing between the beams—hands touching. The gods are all that keep Ulysses safe—Ulysses of course larger than a singular body, he is all black men stranded and isolated, shipwrecked, alone on a sinking vessel.
When the orphaned Ulysses discovers he is not alone, this communion saves him. Ubuntu, from the Zulu proverb, says we cannot afford to lose one soul. Each loss decreases our human value and potential. The gods know this and eventually so does Ulysses. He realizes that even flawed, his wife and son need him and want him to return.
The remembering aspect of the healing process, that is, the assemblage of the severed parts, is an important step in Ulysses, and by extension black people’s, march home. Just as Auset (Isis) re-members Ausar (Osiris) and together they make Heru (Horus) who ends the war between warring family, Ulysses as prodigal son, Lazarus risen from the dead, Joseph left to tarry in the prison— has a key role to play as well in the ordering of the universe.
Diaspora black people carry “home” within their persons. Along the journey Ulysses learns sanctuary is in the connections between other human beings which shape and mold community. This is one of the lessons of the “Flood,” the shipwrecks, the Long Walk black people are still walking, still repaving. Ulysses realizes that if he wants his family to survive, he has to save it. The gods are watching, but the work is a human one. It is literally in his hands.
“black odyssey” by Marcus Gardley, Oakland’s sun-kissed native son, directed by a visionary Eric Ting at California Shakespeare Theatre through Sept. 3, tells this story—the calculated destruction of black America from chattel slavery to the black codes, segregation, and the myth of black inferiority and white supremacy. “black odyssey” stays with the internal struggle actor J. Alphonse Nicholson’s “Ulysses,” a war hero, faces when he looks at what he has become for the nation state: a killer. Like August Wilson’s “Citizen Bartlow,” Ulysses needs his soul cleansed so he can return home. Aunt Ester provides the key, but it is the entire community gathered that sings Citizen into the storm so he can reach the City of Bones—
In Ulysses case, it is his Great Aunt Tina (actor Margo Hall) who holds off the wrath of another god, Great Grand Paw Sidin (actor Aldo Billingslea). Sometimes one has to perform a ritual to correct an error. How can the veteran get his humanity back? He’s been wandering for 16 years. Distracted by intentional detours, he has forgotten home. Lost in the Bush of Ghosts, he encounters many deities, but these are false gods, whether it is a police arrest to fill a quota or one of the many spirits at a variety of crossroads the protagonist meets as he follows the life line imprinted on the palm of his hand— All seem intent on stealing what is left of Ulysses’s soul.
In a coma for seven days – a deep deep sleep, Ulysses finds himself roused or awakened, then washed onto the roof of a house where he meets a stranded family— He has awakened to his past, a place where he knows the outcome. How did Ulysses manage to survive the shipwreck, the bondage, the captivity . . . without direction—16 years wandering without an anchor?
As the lost man looks at the landmarks—King’s death, the 4 Little Girls at the 16th Street Baptist Church, Emmett Till’s smile and laughter, he reflects on the similarities between what was then and what is now. He wonders who started this war and how he could possible win? Ulysses does not know his people or their story. He and Nella Pell (actress Omozé Idehenre) are all the family either of them know — Nella Pell and son – Malachai (actor Michael Curry), unborn when Ulysses leaves for war, anchor his soul, give his life meaning.
With so much ahead of him—new wife, expectant baby, Ulysses is excited to leave for war in peace time. He wants to be a teacher and figures the GI Bill will help with tuition. He tells his anxious bride he will return long before the baby is born. But something happens while Ulysses is in the Gulf, he kills a boy—his cousin. The killing twists something precious, cutting the soldier off from his ability to feel and see clearly. He traverses epochs in this country’s history no one would want to live once, let alone twice—but his journey written in his hands forces the character to face aspects of his person he would rather ignore.
There is no mercy and the plan to destroy Ulysses is tied to the disregard Great Grand Paw Sidin (Billingslea) has for his brother Great Grand Daddy Deus (actor Lamont Thompson)—his walking stick shaped like a lightning bolt, is so beyond anything a mere mortal can comprehend or interrupt, the gods have to step in to save Ulysses Lincoln, the last of his tribe.
There is music and humor and ceremony as the gods—brothers Sidin and Deus (Cane and Abel?) play chess, the pieces their people. Ulysses has killed his uncle, Great Grand Paw Sidin’s son, the one-eyed cyclops, and Paw Sidin is out for blood. Slippery, Great Grand Paw Sidin shows up while Ulysses is away and tries to trick Nella Pell.
All that protects Ulysses from Paw Sidin’s wrath is his Great Aunt Tina and her father, Great Grand Daddy Deus— Divine origins, yes. Nonetheless, the 16 year odyssey is perilous, yet the love Nella Pell has for her husband throughout the years and the belief Great Aunt Tina has that Ulysses will return, keeps air in tires, the road paved and gas in the tank.
The years pass quickly, Great Aunt Tina leaves her throne to take care of Nella and Malachai. She feels some of Ulysses problems are her family’s fault. No one has ever told him he’s a god. When we meet the family, the boy is 16 and Ulysses is revived on the floating rooftop a crucial time in a journey that has lasted longer than anyone expected. How does he return to land? He has been lost for so long. Where are the landmarks? Who are the guides on a journey General Tubman articulated so long ago for those who would listen?
Ulysses shows up at a terminal in Louisiana, but he doesn’t know who he is. His lineage is stunted. He doesn’t know his family and so cannot board the train. How does an orphan claim a heritage he cannot remember? Even when the details are lost, the body remembers the journey—the map etched in our DNA – finger prints, palms of hands, retinal scan. The ancestors are guides for Ulysses on his journey from the moment he falls overboard they hold him up and keep him from drowning. Great Aunt Tina, a divine being living with humans, knows her nephew is alive and continues to remind Nella Pell that until a body washes onto the shore, there is a chance her husband will return.
Nella loves her lost husband, yet after 16 years, at a time when their son is challenging “whiteness” and getting beat up in the process—the world not a safe place for such a query, Nella wonders if she needs to marry for her son’s sake.
Artistic Director, Eric Ting’s, direction in this production shows his grasp of the largess that is this story in his excellent choice of cast: Aldo Billingslea, Michael Curry, Safiya Fredericks, Margo Hall, Omozé Idehenre, J. Alphonse Nicholson, Michael Gene Sullivan, Lamont Thompson, Dawn L. Troupe, and collaborating artists: Linda Tillery, master storyteller and scholar, as vocal coach and musical director, Molly Holm as vocal composer and vocal ensemble director, Latanya D. Tigner and Kendra Kimbrough Barnes as chorographers and Dede M. Ayite, costume designer. It is Mr. Ayite who said Sanfoka, the Akan adinkra or symbol of a bird with its head facing backward that tells us to “go back and fetch it”: our rituals, our stories, our swords, guides his choices in fabrics and design– it’s the ‘60s and revolution is in the air ala T. Carlis Roberts sound design.
In “black odyssey” Gardley has articulated the African Diaspora Odu or story. Set in Oakland, not only is there a specificity to the landmarks anchoring a story which has multiple geographies as Ulysses travels illustrate: Accorn Apartments, Lake Merritt, Bishop O’Dowd High School, Fruitvale BART—these places have electric charges attached which shock certain folks along a circuitry that is the black American experience. Gardley’s Oakland, the “Land of the Blacks,” is heaven.
The Association of Black Psychologists have a healing workshop for community called Emotional Emancipation Circles or EEC, which provides black participants with keys to unlock and dismantle the mythology of black inferiority and white supremacy, through the use of culture, songs, poetry and dance. Art and culture are key to black survival and black transformation whether it’s Diana Ross, Tina Turner, James Brown or Superfly – all a part of the landscape Gardley’s Ulysses meets along his journey home.
The drum beat opens the procession—Nicholson’s character sets the tone with his percussive beats—he hits buckets and when they are not present wooden sticks or claves act as a reminder to Ulysses to continue to remember his stories, the journey and his goal to reach land and find his family – to go home.
The opening scenes are ones of pageantry—the divine ones make a grand entrance: beauty and power present in the sacred song they sing of ancient rites of passages, sacred journeys undertaken, lost turns and lost ones. Dressed in gold and white, we witness alchemy – floss turned into gold. The djali or griot (Michael Gene Sullivan) tells the audience to enjoy the journey, dance and shout.
As participants in this black odyssey make a grand entrance onto the stage—dressed as the divine beings they are—elegant and fine, singing an African folks song—we remember ancient rites of passages, sacred journeys undertaken, lost turns and lost ones.
Later these same deities reappear, fans swirling along with umbrellas and players join us on stage as a narrator gives us the preamble. It is Alvin Ailey “Revelations”—the Negro Spirituals: coded language, sacred Odu outlined in Ulysses’s palm, his lifeline connected to a larger tapestry his Nella Pell keeps spinning like other great weavers: Great Aunt Tina, the Goddess “Athena” or Anasi—the great trickster, webmaster (spider). The tapestry holds the past and present and points to the future, the son, 16 years, 16 also the number for Orunmila, the orisha or deity of divination or destiny. His priests use oracles: ikines (palm nuts) and the okuele (diviner’s chain) to tell “where a person’s fate is headed” (http://santeriachurch.org/the-orishas/).
“black odyssey” is not a vacation in the Bahamas. Similar to other Gardley work, “black odyssey’s” contemporary resonance leaves a taste in one’s mouth chewing gum will not erase— Tickets are flying out of the box office, so buy two tickets and take an elder and a youthful friend. Sunday, August 27, following the 4 p.m. performance audiences can enjoy a conversation with cast. Listen to an interview with Also Billingslea (Paw Sidin) on Wanda’s Picks Radio show August 14.
Added performance Saturday, Aug 26, 2 p.m. Tickets start at $39—use code Odyssey39 when ordering online calshakes.org or by phone (510) 548-9666. The Bruns Amphitheatre in Orinda is at 100 California Shakespeare Theatre Way. Dress warmly. It is outdoors. There is a free shuttle from the BART station. There are $20 discount tickets for students, elders, and folks 30 and younger, between 12 noon and 2 p.m. day of performance. Call for details.