Playwright Dionna Michelle Daniel has crafted a unique piece of theatre with American Saga – Gunshot Medley: Part 1. In a scant seventy minutes, she lays bare the horrors of the Black experience of slavery, its subjugation, cruelty and violence, as well as the human joy of life itself, of love and children. Ms. Daniel puts the setting in “the Hereafter” where dead souls continue to struggle or, sometimes, find pleasure in small things. First is Betty (Cherise Boothe) who toils with a washrag scrubbing the ground on her hands and knees. Sometimes when she stands the sound of a loud gunshot pierces the air as she clutches her belly doubled over in pain as if pierced by a bullet. Her toil and pain is alleviated by the impish presence of Alvis (Derek Jackson), an effervescent, irrepressible bundle of joy and good spirit who delights in singing and dancing and showing Betty things he has found—a child’s toy gun, a skittles wrapper, and more. She chastens him for leaving his “post” and rummaging in the graveyard. And then there is George (Jon Chaffin), handsome, fierce and frustrated at his inability to do anything to alleviate the continuing injustice and violence that is the reality of the African American experience. He intends to quit his post and go out in the world, a strange ambition for a specter. He returns garbed as a Black Panther, frustrated at his inability to effect any kind of meaningful change.
The performances are intensely affecting, never more so than when Betty turns her washrag into a baby that she cradles in her arms, one of two that were lost in the horrific brutality of that bygone time. The childlike enthusiasm of Alvis alleviates to a degree the darkness of this purgatory. But it is the still, Buddha-like presence of the High Priestess of Souls (Sha’Leah Nikole Stubblefield), who, draped in red with a skirt that flows wide around her on the floor of the stage, quietly dominates the proceedings, singing from time to time with ineffable soul well-known songs of poignancy, never more so than with “Black is the Color of My True Loves Hair,” the memory of which moistens my eyes as I write this.
The action is ennobled by the musical support of Calvin L. Blake III on djimbel/African conga, Ann Polednak on banjo, and Crissy Joyce on violin, who appear as shadows behind upstage screens, playing before the start of the show and from time to time throughout.
American Saga – Gunshot Medley: Part 1 benefits from the keen direction of Desean Kevin Terry and the production team of John Perrin Flynn and Julie Bersani (Producers), Calvin L. Blake III (Music Director), Priti Donde (Scenic Design), Tor Brown (Lighting Design), Wendell C. Carmichael (Costume Design), and Jeff Gardner (Sound Design).
The Rogue Machine production of American Saga – Gunshot Medley: Part 1 runs Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm through September 23rd (additional performance added on Thursday, September 20 at 8pm) at The Met, 1089 N. Oxford Avenue in Los Angeles. It then moves for a two week run at WLCAC Theatre, 10950 S. Central Avenue beginning on Friday, October 5, with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm through October 14th.