Future Classic Program: Lift by Walter Mosley (staged reading)
Presented by the Classical Theatre of Harlem with the Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Education Center
Malcolm X & Shabazz Center, 3940 Broadway
http://www.classicaltheatreofharlem.org/ and http://theshabazzcenter.net/

July 11, 2011, 7:30pm

(L-R) Ty Jones, Walter Mosley. During post-show discussion. Photo: Martha Wade Steketee.

In what was the ballroom of this grand old building with a devastating history, several hundred people gather to hear a staged reading of an early draft of a new play by Walter Mosley.  Mosley is the initial draw for me (and the evening proves to provide so much more) — known to me through one of his fictional characters I first met on the page (Easy Rawlings of Devil in a Blue Dress and other works), then on the screen.  Mr. Mosley’s new play Lift is given a powerful reading this evening directed by Dean Irby and delivered by talented actors including Frankie Faison, Yvette Ganier and Steve Hauck.  The play uses a tight theatrical construct — two people trapped in an elevator, and other characters and voices off stage — to explore race, culture, histories, expectations, relationships.  Yes, a work that promises to be a wonder when fully staged.

No critical review is appropriate or truly possible from a staged reading.  We can gather impressions and engage with the characters and, if we as audience members are fortunate enough to have the playwright in attendance, we can offer our reactions to the words and characters to demonstrate what lands, what inspires us, when might bear pruning.  My reactions to this evening for this blog posting are more focused on the building and the conversation with Mr. Mosley after the reading ended, including these Mosley observations:

  • “Theatre is the hardest kind of writing.  People just sit in front of you listening.  You have to be good to make this work.”
  • “People have to laugh in theatre, no matter what the tragedy is.”
  • “Self medication is a way of being in America.”
  • “You’d think that movies and theatre would have something to do with each other but they’re absolutely opposite.”
  • on the rhythm of characters interaction as a “kind of music”.

As someone who observes intensely and respects the art of theatre and certain forms of music without reservation, I am inspired by this evening in countless ways.  The individual community members who came up and introduced themselves (from the director of the Shabazz Center to Producing Director of the Classical Theatre of Harlem to a number of fellow theatre lovers interested in a new face in the crowd).  This building itself resonating history and life lessons. This contemporary American artist who shares his evolving work with an appreciate audience.  Some sweet performances.  Gifts to us.

© Martha Wade Steketee (July 13, 2011)

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