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Les Deux Noirs Premieres At Mosaic Theater

THE AFRO — For a dedicated group of audience goers the theater presents that communal experience, and unlike film, offers a unique performance each time the actors step out on stage. Theater offers whoever sits in the plush chairs an opportunity to engage in a larger conversation. And you don’t have to search for people to talk to about the subject, everyone is in the room with you.

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By George Kevin Jordan

This past Sunday HBO presented the season premiere of final episodes of “Game of Thrones.” It could arguably be one of the last communal television watching experiences in our lifetime. It’s the last of the water cooler subjects. As more and more people splinter off into their own microcosms of conversation and viewing habits, trying to pull a topic everyone can grapple with together is getting harder and harder.

Why do people go to the theater?

For a dedicated group of audience goers the theater presents that communal experience, and unlike film, offers a unique performance each time the actors step out on stage. Theater offers whoever sits in the plush chairs an opportunity to engage in a larger conversation. And you don’t have to search for people to talk to about the subject, everyone is in the room with you.

Good theater does even more. It subverts your expectations and plays at the mediums strengths, live performance, engaging the imagination in real time. Pushing boundaries or language and reality.

This week the Mosaic Theater Company presented “Les Deux Noirs: Notes on Notes of A Native Son,” written by Psalmayene 24 and directed by Raymond O. Caldwell, a fast paced musically and poetically charged play based on the a meeting of three literary giants, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Chester Himes in a Paris Cafe in 1953. In this interpretation of the encounter, the playwright focused on Wright and Baldwin and their fraught relationship brought to a steaming angry froth thanks to Baldwin’s scathing reviews of Wright’s 1940 novel “Native Son.”

The situation and the play that encompasses the situation are both specific to Black life and age old at the same time. Baldwin committed the ultimate “no-no,” which is to publicly chastise another Black person, to downgrade or ridicule their work. But in the more general sense, he did what every young writer did to their heroes, they kicked them right off the pedestal. Everyone wanted to be like Ernest Hemingway, until they didn’t. So many writers lived by Joan Didion’s complex writing, but the next generation critiqued her style.

This tradition of the next generation challenging their predecessors was taken to new heights in the hand of Psalmayene 24 who took the heart of most writers, a glob of narcissism, ego,and insecurity, and wrapped it into genuine emotions and care. You felt for Richard Wright, played by James J. Johnson, as he navigated hurt feeling and betrayal at the hands of a young up and comer he tried to support. And yet you also feel for Baldwin, played by Jeremy Hunter, who’s critiques of Wright’s work had some validity and rang true in many ways.

Psalmayene 24 used the filter of battle raps to fully convey the battle of old and new young and old, rising star, and established act. During the performance there are literal dance-offs, bouts of words and near microphone drops as each artist proports their skills and their rationale for being king.

Both Johnson and Hunter seem to relish their roles filling them with swagger, intelligence and heart. Baldwin, for many, has a much more prominent place in our subconscious with many YOUTUBE archived battles Baldwins has conducted. We have a short hand in our minds of who we think Baldwin may be, so on stage it resonates. Wright’s work seems to stand out in the mind more than him as a flesh and blood character in literary society, so Johnson has reign to create how we see the author.

The point of the play and the experience to me is less of what transpired. Facts are not as relevant as the larger literary truth. What I saw was two Black men, fighting for their right to exist to be, in and of themselves, but also in conjunction with one another. They are brothers whether divided by ideology, age, temperament or financial circumstances. And it is a sight to see them laugh, fight and love their way through greatness.

The play is full of surprises, none of which I will spoil, but needless to say the cast serves the writing, and the writing serves the cast. RJ Pavel and Musa Gurnis round out the cast. Les Duex runs through April 27th at the Mosaic Theater’s Atlas Performing Arts Center at 1333 H Street NE. For more information please go to https://www.mosaictheater.org/

This article originally appeared in The Afro

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Art

MC Arts Gallery Opens During the Marin Open Studio

The Gallery and its website display the art of a number of Black artists which includes: TheArthur Wright, Lumumba Edwards, and Maalak Atkins. Zwanda and Mitchell Howard also display their art at the Gallery. 

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From top: Oshalla Marcus (director/curator, MC Arts & Culture) with Osiezhe’s drawings to the right of the photo, Zwanda, Mitchell Howard , ISOJI’s Art Is Health Band: Carlton Carey (drums), Mwanza Furaha, (vocals), Jack Prendergast (bass), Ricardo Moncrief (keyboard), James Moseley (guitar, vocal). Photos by Godfrey Lee.

The MC Arts Gallery, located on 100 Donahue St. in the Gateway Shopping Center in Marin City, is open during the Marin Open Studios, which took place on Saturday and Sunday, May 1 & 2. 

The Gallery and its website display the art of a number of Black artists which includes: The Arthur Wright, Lumumba Edwards, and Maalak Atkins. Zwanda and Mitchell Howard also display their art at the Gallery. 

Zwanda seeks to be creative as she expands her ideas as a sculptress and painter. She is inspired by the human figure and dancers and is fascinated with music and the instruments themselves. Her art is a way to express this love and to share it with others.

Mitchell Howard studied art at San Francisco State University and the Computer Arts Institute of San Francisco. He was an art director at Cummingham & Walsh in San Francisco and has displayed his paintings at the Hannah Gallery, worked on the Rocky Graham Park Mural and has taught art at the Martin Luther King Jr. Academy Elementary School.

“Art can bring people together and illustrate things that people can relate to,” Howard says. “Art can also be powerful in sending social messages to society. Art makes you think, it expands your horizons and makes you use your imagination. People may see different things in the same painting.”

Osiezhe, Shakira Gregory’s son, will be displaying his drawings at the Gallery.

The ISOJI’s Art Is Health Band played last Saturday afternoon with Mwanza Furaha as their guest vocalist.

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Art

City Council Approves $480,000 in Arts Grants

The city made the announcement Tuesday about the grants, which will support 772 distinct arts events and activities that will expose more than 110,000 participants to cultural programming.

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The Oakland City Council approved $480,000 in grants to 17 Oakland-based non-profit organizations and 20 individual artists through the city’s Cultural Funding Program, Neighborhood Voices.

The city made the announcement Tuesday about the grants, which will support 772 distinct arts events and activities that will expose more than 110,000 participants to cultural programming.

The grant program seeks to bring Oaklanders together to create and support a sense of belonging within a community, to foster social connections that lift people’s spirits, to encourage community well-being and offer visions for a collective future, according to the announcement.

The following individual artists each won $7,000 Neighborhood Voices awards:

Frederick Alvarado; Karla Brundage; Cristina Carpio; Darren Lee Colston; Maria De La Rosa; Elizabeth D. Foggie; Rachel-Anne Palacios; Laurie Polster; Hasain Rasheed; Kweku Kumi Rauf; Carmen Roman; Michael Roosevelt; Fernando Santos; Teofanny Octavia Saragi; Kimberly Sims-Battiste; Cleavon Smith; Lena Sok; Babette Thomas; Ja Ronn Thompson; Joseph Warner.

Each of the following organizations received $20,000 Neighborhood Voices awards:

Asian Health Services for Banteay Srei;

Beats Rhymes and Life;

Chapter 510 INK;

Dancers Group for dNaga GIRL Project;

Dancers Group for Dohee Lee Puri Arts;

Dancers Group for Grown Women Dance Collective;

East Oakland Youth Development Center;

Higher Gliffs for Endangered Ideas;

Hip Hop for Change;

Junior Center of Art and Science;

Mycelium Youth Network;

Oakland Education Fund for Youth Beat;

Oakland Theater Project, Inc.;

Sarah Webster Fabio Center for Social Justice;

The Intersection for Alphabet Rockers;

Women’s Audio Mission;

Youth Radio/YR Media.

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AHC’s ArtEsteem Program

ArtEsteem is part of AHC, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit located in West Oakland. To find out more visit ahc-oakland.org.

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This self-portrait was created by 12-year-old Leslie Callejas from Life Academy School in Oakland. As a participant in the ArtEsteem program, Leslie was guided through the art-making process; using photo references, observational drawing, and painting with watercolors. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this class was made available via distance learning under the guidance of instructor Etty Alberto. 

 

ArtEsteem offers art classes to students in underserved communities, providing a foundation in art techniques while encouraging students to self-reflect and think critically, be inspired, and expand their view of their world. ArtEsteem is part of AHC, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit located in West Oakland. To find out more visit ahc-oakland.org.

 

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