February 22, 2017
by, Susann Shin
Marcia E. Cole performed original poetry and monologues at West End Interim Library last Thursday, sharing accounts from the Underground Railroad and highlighting how the collaboration of black and white sympathizers led to the freedom of many slaves.
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The Women’s Voices Theater Festival: ‘A Matter of Worth’ at Live Garra Theatre
September 17, 2015
by, Annetta Dexter Sawyer
A transformation awaits at Marcia E. Cole’s A Matter of Worth as the house lights dim, and the stage is lit as a cotton field with layer upon layer of waves of white cotton. A barn stands to one side, two women are hunched over in the field, and a man works a hoe. Downstage children and a woman sit around a table as the woman holds a book. Hannah, played by Judy Leak, enters as the story-teller and there is an incredibly palpable moment of suspended space and time…the past spread right before our eyes gets framed in contrast with the present-day. A call/response flow between past and present begins. This back and forth whips into a striking rhythm that the ensemble carries in a poetic, music-like undertone throughout the entire play. Both sections are performed superbly with simple directness, no embellishment, and nothing is ever sentimentalized.
Tears roll down Hannah’s cheeks in a slow silent stream as she reveals how her son is taken from her:
They named him Q,
Didn’t even give him a name.
Just a letter.
They made us watch.
The dogs about ripped the hide off him.
They beat him
Till he stopped hollerin’.
They beat him
Till he stopped movin’.
Wouldn’t let us bury him.
Any fool knows you can’t
Let a body there
On the ground
A spirit can’t rest that way.
Because of that nefarious unrest we are fortunate to hear the voice of a native Washingtonian writer, Marcia E. Cole. The local Women’s Voices Theater Festival has selected Live Garra Theatre to present A Matter of Worth. Cole has been awarded the College Language Association Creative Writing honor across three genres – drama, poetry, and short story. This is her first play. As her biography notes the work is a reflection of “her strong advocacy for literacy” and her belief that “the arts are essential to understanding the world we live in whether by examining the past or looking to the future.”
Please keep writing Ms. Cole; the country needs to hear your voice, the world needs to hear your voice! Your underlying messages are many. All ring true, especially those formidable words…”if you don’t know who you are…” and what and who you believe “is the only one who can set my worth” spoken from the mouth of the enslaved Hannah who knows there “must be something powerful about words” serves as a call to our shared humanness and being better human beings in every spoken word of this work.
The play’s director and Artistic Director of Live Garra, Wanda Whiteside, creates a painfully credible story-telling exchange between every character. Her direction essentializes every word and gesture down to its core. There are no frills. Just truth. Whiteside demonstrates an uncanny ability to let what is on the page resonate with the physicality of the actor. The story-reader or teacher, Christa M. Bennett, gives pure, powerfully direct recitations that are punctuated and contrasted with the elder’s story-telling. This contrast works beautifully to build the poesy of the writing as well as take the audience on the arc of the play.
Karen Lawrence, Antoinette Greene-Fisher, and Clyde McKnight give exceptional performances through use of masks, props, costume, and also through subtle physicality. Most memorable is their approach into the space of the audience calling and shouting every derogatory name a person can be called when seen through the lens of racism. This powerful moment leaving the “light” of the stage, coming into the “darkness” of the audience too is contrasted with other moments of joyous dance and rhyming song!
The re-creation of the auction sounds, the feeling of being suspended in time, the going backwards and forwards all support Cole’s theme of truly knowing one’s worth and resonates with her words: “blessed are they who paved a way to the future.”
Running Time: Approximately 65 minutes, with no intermission.<
A Matter of Worth plays through September 24, 2015 at Live Garra Theatre performing at the Silver Spring Black Box Theatre – 8641 Colesville Road, in Silver Spring, MD. For tickets, call (855) 575-4834, or purchase them online.
About Annetta Dexter Sawyer: Annetta Dexter Sawyer is a local performing artist, adjunct professor of Fine Arts, and an awarded teaching artist & poet. She performs movement-based theatre, spoken word performance art, and enjoys working with other theatre artists, especially doing physical theatre. In 2014 her poem Futurists was published in Pif magazine. She welcomes being on board with DCMetroTheaterArts.
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REVIEW • BY STEVE LAROCQUE
It was the mule that got to her.
Marcia E. Cole, the author of A Matter of Worth, now playing at the Silver Spring Black Box Theater, was at the Maryland Historical Society Museum, poring over a list of property items sold upon the death of Caleb Goodwin, a Baltimore County landowner, in 1855.
The property included animals, and, of course, slaves.
Two entries caught her eye.
The first: “One Negro woman, Hannah, 73 years – $1”
The other: “One old mule called Coby – $5”
The old mule was worth more than the old slave woman.
In A Matter of Worth, presented by Live Garra Theatre as part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival, the 73-year-old slave Hannah (in a compelling performance by Judy Leak) becomes the narrator and voice of conscience for the slaves of the Goodwin plantation.
Through her stories, we enter the brutal world of antebellum slavery in Baltimore County, Maryland. We are brought there through the device of a written account, read by a modern-day teacher, Ms. Memory (played by Karen Lawrence) to her pupils (Chaniah Taylor, Khari Dawson, and Jonathan Walker).
The narrative moves us from the present to the mid-19th Century, accompanied by the chant of an unseen auctioneer, selling off slaves. The lights come up on two unnamed young slave women (Antoinette Greene-Fisher and Christa Bennett) picking cotton, and a man (Clyde McKnight) poking at the ground with a hoe. On the stoop of a slave cabin, Hannah declares that, at seventy-three years, she has endured a great deal, but “I still got my right mind,” and she begins her story.
Her first reminiscence is of slaves being called out to witness a flogging – a scene painfully reminiscent of the Appel in German concentration camps. As she recounts the gruesome scene, she looks up to the brutally hot sky and says, “That sun ain’t fooling.”
Her narrative moves quickly to the illness and death of Master Goodwin – the cause, at first, for rejoicing, then terror, as the realization sets in that the master’s property – including the animals and the slaves – must all be sold off.
From this point, the play moves – slowly, steadily, like a Greek tragedy – toward the inevitable auction of Master Goodwin’s property. There are gospel and slave songs, and scenes of floggings, slave hunting, and pre-auction scrutiny of slaves put up for sale. As Hannah narrates, her three unnamed fellow slaves serve as a Greek chorus, acting out the scenes with masks, singing, dancing, and reciting Bible accounts of the creation.
As the auction chant begins, the white gentlemen overseeing the auction write down the name, gender, age, and selling price of each animal and slave. Hannah observes wryly that a slave named Margaret “took airs because she went for three hundred dollars.” The auction is punctuated by an enumeration of six classes of slaves, based on their skills, though color often trumped position: “The whiter you are, the better, even if you’re black.”
As the auction ritual continues, the children of Ms. Memory’s class are brought in and made to stand, eyes down and immobile, scrutinized by potential buyers. Slaves and animals are compared; the Greek chorus acts out the mannerisms of mules as the condition of slaves and mules is compared: “I worked harder, but they was better fed.”
Finally, the roll call of slaves and animals – their names, ages, and selling prices – reaches a crescendo, and Hannah cries out, “One dollar ain’t enough! God is the only one who can determine my worth!” As Ms. Memory and the other slaves move to Hannah, she raises her voice in final praise of the blessed ones who “endured and paved a way for the future.”
The script is strong, the acting solid across the board, and Judy Leak as Hannah is remarkable – but the story that hurts, as it has to. There are very few light moments, but many memorable ones. Scenes sometimes end tentatively, instead of flowing one to another, but that’s a minor flaw that will improve with additional performances.
A Matter of Worth is a play worth seeing, for memory’s sake. As Hannah says, “some things are best not forgotten.”
Written by Marcia E. Cole; directed by Wanda Whiteside; set by Harlan Penn; props by Dulcinea Bowers; stage manager, Vicki Sussman; managing director, Carol Blue. At Silver Spring Black Box Theater, 8641 Colesville Road, Silver Spring MD. September 16-24.
- Wed, 9/16 – Fri, 9/18: 8 pm
- Sat, 9/19 – Sun, 9/20: 5 pm & 8 pm
- Wed, 9/23 – Thu, 9/24: 8 pm
Running time: one hour (no intermission)
Cast: Christa Bennett, Khari Dawson, Antoinette Greene-Fisher, Karen Lawrence, Judy Leak, Clyde McKnight, Chaniah Taylor, and Jonathan Waller
Getting there: Traveling to the Silver Spring Black Box Theater by public transportation is about as easy as it gets. Catch the Red Line Metro at the Takoma station; look for trains heading north to Silver Spring or Glenmont. Get off at the Silver Spring station and walk north up Colesville Road to the theater. Total transit time: about 15 minutes (after you catch the train). Rugged individualists may prefer the 37-minute walk along Fenton Avenue into Silver Spring.
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A Matter of Worth, Live Garra Theatre
September 21, 2015
by, Britt Oliver
One dollar, one woman, one epic story connecting a tragic past to a hopeful future; A Matter of Worth by Marcia E. Cole, allows the audience to experience slavery through the eyes of Hannah, a cotton plantation field worker, just before the abolishment of slavery. Equipped with a unique vision and a voice filled with conviction, Ms. Cole courageously guides the audience through a time of darkness in American history while shedding beacons of hope to light the way
The opening scene unfolds with a woman, Ms. Memory, reading a storybook on a very small corner of the stage. With vast animated gestures and characterizations, Ms. Memory tells Hannah’s story to a group of wide-eyed children. White lights boldly illuminate the stage transporting the audience back in time to the days of vast southern cotton plantations, to the days before labor laws, to the days that felt hopeless to the millions of slaves who were victims of ceaseless oppression. The set design, created by Harlan Penn, served as the ideal vessel for capturing the harsh conditions of the period while offering a bit of southern comfort, a porch, a chair, and a small window to offer a tiny glimpse into the world.
Suddenly, Hannah appears, strong, bold, and seemingly secure in herself despite the fact that her master’s illness creates an uncertain future. Seventy-three year old Hannah guides the audience on her personal journey: from her initial experience as a long-term plantation slave to the jarring death of her master, placing her future in the hands of auctioneers. Her perspective offered a fresh focus on a portion of history often forgotten. Hannah’s harrowing story is told, with the help of her fellow field workers, rife with historical details that textbooks seem to have left out. For example, the fact that slaves were stripped of their clothing, their names, and ultimately their dignity. As Hannah’s story comes to a close, will she allow her auction block price of a single dollar to determine her worth?.
For many African Americans, derogatory phrases and uneasy actions were unfortunate characteristics of this time including being called by racial slurs rather than by their given name, being malnourished, and receiving painful whippings by masters, and slave overseers. In order to show there was hope during those troubling times, director Wanda Whiteside incorporated inspirational spirituals, dances, and poetry to bridge the gap between slavery and African culture. The narrative was so profoundly poetic it bore a Shakespearian cadence.
It takes a strong ensemble to pull off such eloquent words with ease and emotional conviction. Whiteside assembled a talented, collaborative, collection of actors who were deeply connected to the storyline and eager to engage the audience in a captivating manor. Judy Leak’s depiction of Hannah reflected her wide emotional range as an actor. Whether she confidently informed us of Hannah’s various talents or tearfully explained how she was stripped of her birth name, Ms. Leak brought Hannah to life by giving her so many dimensions.
A Matter of Worth
Part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival
September 16 – 24, 2015
Silver Spring Black Box Theater
18641 Colesville Road
Silver Spring, MD 20910
1 hour, 10 minutes
Details and Tickets
The Young Voices also played a pivotal part in the retelling of history. Their sheer presence, as they actively engaged in the story by virtue of listening, offered a direct connection from generation to generation. They also served as a metaphor for the fact that the past shall not be forgotten, but through understanding, the future will be a hopeful one. Ms. Memory further conveyed the hopeful undertone of the dialogue by reciting each tale with a bubbly burst of energy as she read Hannah’s story to the children.
Conversely, chorus members/plantation field workers Clyde McKnight, Antoinette Greene-Fisher, and Christa M. Bennett, offered raw performances as they recited grizzly facts that are often hard to stomach. Whiteside cleverly chose to engage the audience in the gritty historical recollections by having chorus members speak and move into the audience bringing us out of our comfort zone and into the harsh reality of slave life.
A Matter of Worth explores a time of degradation with dignity and creativity. Careful construction of the script, ensemble, and the crew allowed the audience to enter a troubling time while keeping the knowledge of a hopeful future in mind. This story is a must see for truth seekers old and young. Ms. Cole presents the facts in such a way that slavery is far from a mere period in history, slavery is finally personified.
A Matter of Worth by Marcia E. Cole . Directed by Wanda Whiteside . Featuring Antoinette Greene-Fisher, Christa M. Bennet, Clyde McKnight, Karen Lawrence, Chaniah Taylor, Khari Dawson, Jonathan Waller, and Judy Leak . Scenic Design: Harlan Penn . Prop Master: Dulcinea Bowers . Stage Manager: Vicki Sussman . Produced by Live Garra Theatre . Reviewed by Britt Oliver.
About Britt Oliver: Britt Oliver is an entertainment enthusiast. She enjoys writing, performing, and attending a wide array of shows in DC and beyond. As a budding playwright and poet, she derives inspiration from her urban adventures. Follow the fun on twitter @beingbrittoh.
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UpClose: Marcia Cole, Women’s Voices Theater Festival
August 31, 2015
by Lorraine Treanor
Marcia E. Cole is a native Washingtonian who in the process of re-invention, received her BA in Early Childhood Education in 2014 from the University of the District of Columbia. Her new play, A Matter of Worth, produced by Live Garra Theatre, opens September 16, 2015.
She has won the College Language Association Creative Writing contest across three genres – Drama (2008), Poetry 1st Prize (2011) and Short Story (2012). She is a strong advocate for literacy and believes all the arts are essential to understanding the world we live in whether by examining the past or looking to the future. A Matter of Worth is her first play. She was invited to appear in a new play reading about Maya Angelou by playwright Rickey Hood 2015. Her son, also a writer, is keeping writing in the family. She invites you to contact her via email.
Why are you a playwright?
I write plays for the challenge the form provides. I love to write and I wanted try my hand at playwriting. I wanted to know if what I had to say could effectively be presented on the stage.
What type of theatre most excites you?
I like works that get inside the character and reveal aspects of people we can recognize as they are revealed. We all have common emotions — fear, doubt, love, and unfortunately even hate. Don’t we all have challenges? Fortunate are the theater goers who leave with a bit of insight to help them see more clearly their own dramas.
What starts a play moving in your imagination?
I find myself drawn to finding ways to illuminate hidden Black history. I discovered there was so much I didn’t know. What I learned in school was just the beginning. So when I come across some little known fact that speaks to a larger issue, I want to see if I can tell it in such a way that its historic and contemporary connection is made.
Describe your writing day.
I wish I had a writing day! Usually some idea or a snatch of dialogue will come to me at some inconvenient time when I am doing something else. I then find myself scrambling to get it down on a scrap of paper for later review. When I actually do get to write, I like to sit at my five-foot artist table that faces a sunny window. Then I invite the characters to come and introduce themselves. Thus the story begins.
How did you choose this play to debut at the Festival?
I was invited … encouraged to enter this piece in the festival by Wanda Whiteside – Director and Producer at Live Garra Theater located in Silver Spring, Maryland, a welcoming place where Black playwrights can showcase their work. She has been a great champion of this piece which delights me. The main character Hannah has a message that is as meaningful today as it was for the time frame in which the play is set.
WOMEN’S VOICES THEATER FESTIVAL
A MATTER OF WORTH
September 16 – 20, 2015
Live Garra Theatre
at Silver Spring Black Box Theater
18641 Colesville Road
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Details and Tickets
What female playwrights have influenced your writing and how?
I bring to mind Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls and Eve Ensler The Vagina Monologues for inspiration for form and economy of setting. To me they show that it really is about the playwright, actor and the words. This is what needs to happen to reach the audience. All the other things are extra.
What’s missing from theatre today?
One thing that is missing is a full on support for theatre in general and Black theater in particular from institutions and the public alike. Financial support through grants, donors and ticket sales is the life blood for struggling theaters. Theaters like Live Garra. They are in jeopardy without it. Theater has been around for centuries to entertain and enlighten audiences. Let’s keep it around for centuries more.
What are you working on now?
I am gathering background materials for another history-based piece. I have two in mind. Once again, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The past and present are always side by side.
Answer this: “If I weren’t a playwright, I would be … “
… teaching reading. With the tool of reading combined with comprehension, the world of information is open to you. Reading is the key to unlock the mind.
Anything you would like to add?
I like the cross pollination of all the art forms. We enrich and inspire each other’s work. I certainly find it so for me. How wonderfully different we convey the same idea.