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Gullah/Geechee Play Was Moving And I Met Lonnie
10/9/2013 10:09:04 PM

By Barney Blakeney

I’ve always been fascinated by the performing arts. When I was younger I played music and acted. I was never one for drawing and painting, but the other stuff - dance, music and theater - I love it.

However, in recent years, I’ve been out of the loop. So when a friend asked me to go to the Moja Arts Festival presentation of a play by playwright Carlie Towne, I agreed mostly because it was my friend’s birthday. Boy was I glad I went!

I know a little bit about theatrical productions. I started performing in plays as a student at Mary Ford Elementary School back in the day. We had some good educators. They gave us a helluva lot more than readin’, ritin’ and rithmatic.

As little kids we got hands in the mud art instruction, and as older kids each class performed a play during a weekly session in the auditorium.

Performing in those plays gave me skills I still use. After college I hung out backstage with members of the Charleston Actors Theater (CATS) whose work formed the foundation for the Moja Arts Festival.

I’m no theater critic, but I know what I like and I know what I feel. I liked everything I felt about Elder Carlie Towne’s “Da Beat Gwine On Frum Africa Ta Da Gullah/Geechee Nation” performed Oct. 3 at Circular Congregational Church on Meeting Street.

At first I felt like a fish out of water. In recent years I’ve been more comfortable with the fellas under the tree than at a theatrical performance. But the opening African drum and dance session set the mood. Things just kept getting better.

The play was about a group of Black women conducting a hen session on a back porch in the Union Heights community of North Charleston where Carlie Towne grew up. As they talked, historic scenes from slavery through the 1960s were played out.

Particularly moving were scenes about the sale of an African slave woman and the following choreographed dance to the Gospel tune ‘Break Every Chain’ performed by Kristina Brown which brought down the house!

Also, there was a scene that featured the Voices of Wose African Dance Group who sang the Gospel ‘Just Another Day That The Lord Has Kept Me’ performed in both English and the African Susu language. Rose Atterberry, Miya Fowler, Rontesha Eurie, Melissa Scott and Queen Atterberry’s harmony was off the chain.

The last time I heard such melodious voices was at Jimmy Frinks’ funeral in Orangeburg some 20 years ago. In both cases, the description “angelic” applies.

Adolphus Williams and Joseph Bailey held up us menfolk with their characterizations and musical performances.

As I said, I’m no theater critic, so I can’t employ the skills that might give a more descriptive picture of the performance except to say that the artists, writers and directors masterfully weaved elements of humor, power and passion into one of the most enjoyable and entertaining plays I’ve ever seen.

I didn’t go to the play to do a critique, but after the performance, I wrote on my program, “God was in the house” to remind myself of the spirit that flowed throughout the play which was about spirituality, culture and finding oneself.

I later called Carlie to tell her how impressed I was at her abilities. She said the production was a group effort. Carlie says her crew deserves all the credit.

She wrote the script, but the actors contributed to their lines to give it more life and authenticity. The young dancer, Kristina Brown, choreographed her own moves to ‘Break Every Chain’. To say that young lady is talented is an understatement.

The production crew: Co-producer, Lisa Wineglass-Smalls; Audio Technician, Arthur Chisolm; Sound person, Reggie Murphy; Stage Manager, Thomas Martin Jr.; and Technical Director, Kamani Story joined the cast dancers, narrators and drummers to create a truly wonderful experience.

And on top off all of that, I ran into my old high school classmate, Lonnie Brown, after the play! I haven’t seen Lonnie in probably 30 years.

I can’t say the experience will prompt me to attend more plays in the future. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink and you can lead a fool to knowledge, but you can’t make him think.

I will say that anyone reading this who has the opportunity to view the play should do so. The group of people who volunteered their time and talent out of sheer love for their art and culture to the Gullah/Geechee Angel Network production, I think have done as good a job as any of the professionals.

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