Theater Review: “Rants” at San Diego’s CAT Theater
Delores Fisher blogging on San Diego’s CAT theater
As mentioned in part 1 of this review on the play “Rants,” Jennie Hamilton’s nurturing personality reminds me a little of Minerva Marquis. Jennie too is on a quest to bring local theater to our San Diego community while continuing to cultivate the best in actors. Jennie ran the heartwarming, family oriented two act play “Rants” by playwright Paul Taylor Sr. for several weeks at the end of 2015.
Jennie Hamilton (photo by Delores Fisher)
I must admit, “Rants” title created images in my mind of an in your face crew of actors spittin’ angry Hip Hop nihilistic violent street rhymes: ranting, raging about mo’ money, mo’ cars, mo’ homes, mo’ beefs, mo’ . . . . .you get the picture. Seen it. Heard it. Been teaching in it.
Perhaps my first response was due to our smouldering social unrest, or maybe I’ve had a secret hope of experiencing artistic searing social commentary, sort of like a Public Enemy “Def Jam” mashes up with “Bring in da funk” and local conscious spoken word cautionary uplift with San Diego’s Lyrical Groove. Ya know? A production in which Black folks-audience and actors- could become community roaring in righteous indignation call and response town hall meeting to express frustration with “craftily branded # media spun reactions to societal ills”.”Rants” is quietly about that and more. What a pleasant surprise.
San Diego actress Shea Coleman(music stage name “Blackberi”) had reassured me that it was not what I thought. But for some reason, I was apprehensive. Shoulda’ listened. Its traditional vibes made me smile from lights up on its opening scene at the last matinee performance. Several of my church’s music department members all of whom have stage experience concurred. Paul Taylor has a hit play worth future production.
Shea Coleman (and Delores Fisher)
When we entered Community Actors Theater’s small lobby, a congenial bearded man in the box office greeted us cheerfully, casually. He was taking tickets and engaging the gathering audience in conversation. We talked a few minutes before realization set in. I was talking to playwright Paul Taylor Sr. Of course I had to get a short interview!
According to Taylor, “Rants” came to him in a dream. Segments of a story about family, ritual bonding, generational relationships, prescience of our elders before transition, passing on a love legacy of positive interactions, personal stories and memories unfolded into its one act form. We were indeed fortuitous. “Rants” present form unfolded a few days before, into this final matinee version.
This version is a two act play with five scenes in act one and three scenes in act two. Paul Taylor Sr. is a liminal grandfather one foot here, one foot into eternity, with dementia. He lives with his daughter’s family. This is a traditional Black family, with Afrocentric photos and memorabilia on the walls and desire for uplift. The daughter, convincingly and gently played by Lisa Franks, is married to a somewhat emotionally distant man who is having trouble honoring his marriage vows and respecting her seemingly dementia troubled father.
Lisa Franks and Anthony Dorrah
Paul Taylor Sr. and Lisa Franks
The son-in-law character Lee Gaines, played by actor Anthony Dorrah and Taylor as father-in-law Henry Jackson are at married life’s opposite ends, Gaines with family and wife in life’s mid-flow, Henry Jackson widowed, approaching the river’s final destination point. Their scenes have a nice tension, an edge of competitive father-in-law/son-in-law male ego pathos that may make many men in the audience uncomfortable.
T.T. Gaines played by Clarence Wine an actor with a disability, adds much to reveal aspects of Lee’s personality, male bonding and fraternal interaction.
The ensemble has many fine ensemble moments around the dining room table, even when unexpected visitors bring tension into the plot line. Their early teen son “D” played insightfully by charming young actor Dorian Woodard helps care for grandfather Henry while adult family members work.
Paul Taylor Jr., Paul Taylor Jr.,Lisa Frank, Shea Coleman
Personal oral narratives and history have been a staple of Black familial legacy and keeper of history invisibilized in institutional education textbooks. Henry Jackson shares memory provoking moments throughout the show as recalling African American men’s decades long battle to be recognized as men not boys culminating in the tumultuous 1960s. His quiet retelling of life memories to his “D,” provides the play with Black traditional culture’s male bonding ritual of passing on male experiences through orality by elder to younger generation.
For some Black males of that era, the summers of the 60s was a time of male social “clubs” turning into gangs, blatant violence between males of different races,1 of hidden or denied reports of police brutality in Black communities, of insurrection and cultural turmoil, resistance, protest of defiance’s frustration expressed through community destroying riots.
Henry also relates 60s and 70s law enforcement and community conflict resulting in deadly traffic stops (the changing same for those innocents on either side of conflict caught in the middle). For conscious Black males, the 60s were also filled with ending violence, community building, restoration, cultural reclamation, pride.
One tender story paints a gentle portrait of grandfather’s sometimes troubled marriage to his loving now deceased wife who he misses and wants to join in the afterlife. She was a community pillar, one of the well respected Black nurses of the times. Henry Jackson regrets insensitive behavior towards her and does not want the same pain for his daughter. He delivers several of “Rants” cautionary life lesson lines, “Life is a circle and death is a part. It’s what you do with the in-between.” Henry also says about love: “Life is the only day we have . . . learn what’s needed.” This story fuels a confrontation with Lee about temptation and infidelity. It also sparks a fine romantic moment between “D” and his first major crush.
“D” and his girlfriend
When Henry dies after writing prescient letters to each family member, it is discovered that his dementia, due to his liminal existence, gave him a gaze into their present lives.
Father, mother and son, miss him fondly. The “D” recalls one of Henry’s stories at play’s end, shadow boxing like his grandfather. He repeats an opening line by Henry, one repeated in the play:”I could ‘a been a contender.” It creates a healing circle of life for the family. Borrowed from an almost forgotten pop culture phrase, stories on stories unfold for those of us who remember.
Darius Woodard as “D” (Photo by Delores Fisher)
Worth future production, “Rants” is about rituals, families, cycles within cycles, and epiphany.
Musewoman at the theater,