Theatre Review: Psalmayene 24’s ‘The Blackest Battle’ presented streaming by Theatre Alliance

Gary Perkins as Bliss and Imami Branch as Dream in Theatre Alliance’s “The Blackest Battle.” Photo courtesy of Theatre Alliance.

Psalmayene 24’s latest production is “The Blackest Battle,” a parable set to a love story set in the near future where America has gone through a second civil war after reparations were finally made to Black people. Black people live in a territory called Chief County where they fight against the cascading effects of slavery — Black-on-Black gun violence, rivalries, and a drug called Hope, which is psychologically addictive (it’s some combination of technology and plant-based which seems to take hold through music).

Go to the Theatre Alliance website and buy a ticket. Psalmayene 24 has given us entrée into a world we need to see and hear and feel — now.

Psalmayene 24 has built his story on the bones of “Romeo & Juliet,” with a hearty nod to “West Side Story.” At one point, even under the hip-hop background, I could hear echoes of “Gee Officer Krupe” in the dialogue. It is a clever homage.

Only in Chief County, our two rival gangs are two rival music entrepreneurs, vying for top billing and away out of gun dealing, and more. In this stripped-down, fast-paced version, the action coalesces when Dream (Imami Branch) meets Bliss (Gary Perkins) and he persuades her to spend a couple of hours with him while he shows her the underpass and introduces her to Hope.

The one thing her posse won’t allow is using Hope — the leader of their group’s mother died from it. But when Dream tries it with Bliss, she sees a world of possibility for Black people to move forward and unleash their creativity, minds, and souls.

Unfortunately, life isn’t that kind. While Bliss and Dream sit under the Underpass (Branch and Perkins have a delectable chemistry together), they see a wall of names painted in little white-rimmed rectangles — the names of everyone dead by gun violence for that year. The names are actually of those who have died by gun violence in Washington, DC this past year, and it’s a harsh, unescapable reality. In “The Blackest Battle,” someone will die of gun violence between the rival groups, but it won’t be Bliss or Dream. It will be basically a bystander, an innocent who came upon them and offered some advice.

Tightly directed by Raymond O. Caldwell, the production team does a masterful job of blending the graphic art (Wesley Clark, Camilla King and Maliah Stokes), background art (Rodney “Buck” Herring), props (Amy Kellett), lighting (Dylan Uremovich), sound (Matthew M. Nielson), and photography (Kelly Colburn, who also did the video editing). Animation by Jeremy Bennett, Deja Collins, Dylan Uremovich, and Visual FX artists Kelly Colburn, Deja Collins, Jonathan Dahm Robertson, and Dylan Uremovich bring visual verve and punch to the music, dance, and dialogue.

But it’s not cartoonish, in the sense of being cute or at a safe remove. This is a visceral show that demands the audience acknowledge and think about the deleterious and on-going effects of centuries of abuse, cruelty, and dehumanization that have led to names on an underpass. The show makes these points with force and vigor because these people have basically died in a war, but where is the memorial honoring their sacrifices?

Go to the Theatre Alliance website and buy a ticket. Psalmayene 24 has given us entrée into a world we need to see and hear and feel — now.

This is an ambitious show, and I’m sorry I didn’t see the original conception when it was presented at the Kennedy Center’s “Page to Stage.”

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes without intermission.

Advisory: Adult language and drug use. For mature teens and older.

“The Blackest Battle” streams through the end of August 2021 from Theatre Alliance, Washington, DC. For more information, please click here. 

Read the full article by Mary Ann Johnson from MD Theatre Guide here.

Ifa Bayeza’s THE TILL TRILOGY Will Launch Next Season at the MOSAIC THEATER COMPANY OF DC

Ifa Bayeza

Washington, DC, July 28, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Mosaic Theater Company of DC is proud to announce the opening production of the 2022-23 season, Ifa Bayeza’s long-anticipated three-play cycle, THE TILL TRILOGY, exploring the life, death, and legacy of Emmett Till. Simultaneously epic and intimate, the three plays – The Ballad of Emmett Till, on the journey of the boy, Benevolence, on the story of his killers and That Summer in Sumner on the quest for justice – will be presented in rotating repertory, starting in August and running through November 2022. This world premiere staging of the full cycle, the first time all three plays will be presented together, is made possible by a grant from The Roy Cockrum Foundation.

The lynching of Emmett Till in 1955 became a catalyst for the modern Civil Rights movement and remains a flashpoint in the racial reckoning of this country. “I have always seen the story of Emmett Till as a national allegory, a modern myth of our struggle to come to grips with the terrible legacy of enslavement,” Bayeza said. “The killing of black men and boys has become so frequent and ubiquitous that it is hard to fathom. I am humbled that THE TILL TRILOGY is making its debut at Mosaic Theater Company in the nation’s Capital – and hopeful that the inspiration of his extraordinary life will buoy us once again in these difficult times.” 

“As theatres come to life across the country, The Roy Cockrum Foundation is honored to support the full world premiere of THE TILL TRILOGY on Mosaic’s stage,” Cockrum said. “In the months since theaters went dark, this work’s importance has been magnified a thousand-fold. The Foundation wholeheartedly supports this historic project with the fullness that the Emmett Till story demands and deserves. We wish the Mosaic family well as they finally move forward with this important work.”

THE TILL TRILOGY will be directed by Talvin Wilks, who also helmed Penumbra Theatre’s acclaimed productions of The Ballad of Emmett Till and Benevolence. Wilks’ and Bayeza’s collaboration on the third play, That Summer in Sumner, will be a world premiere. “We were all so disappointed when like so many other theatres our production was postponed due to COVID,” said Wilks. “The new date is even more poignant as our premiere coincides with the anniversary of this tragic and epic event – August 28th: the day of Emmett’s death, the March on Washington and Barack Obama’s acceptance of the nomination for President of the United States. In the worst of times, the triumph of faith and hope. Emmett’s arc, like Dr. King’s ‘arc of the moral universe, bends toward justice.’”

A month after his fourteenth birthday, a confident Chicago youth, a boy on the threshold of manhood, embarks on a summer trip to Mississippi. His saga changes the course of a nation . . .  but what of his own journey? The story of a quest … for liberty . . .  and . . .  life! THE TILL TRILOGY, Ifa Bayeza’s acclaimed, award-winning trio of dramas captures the powerful truths at the heart of the story in a soaring work of music, poetry and theatricality.

In preparation for production, Mosaic has presented a series of streamed and recorded public programming events surrounding the political and social impact of the Emmett Till saga. Guests have included Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie Bunch, preeminent Brandeis University scholar Isaiah Woodard, who is serving as dramaturg on the production, founder of Busboys and Poets Andy Shallal and Mosaic’s Andrew W. Mellon Playwright in Residence Psalmayene 24. All online events can be viewed here.

For more information about THE TILL TRILOGY, its author, director,  and upcoming public programs, visit https://mosaictheater.org/the-till-trilogy

Play                 THE TILL TRILOGY

Dates               August 24, 2022 through November 20, 2022

Box Office      https://sforce.co/3i8IQzK

Theater Alliance Presents THE BLACKEST BATTLE Beginning This Month

The Blackest Battle premieres on July 31, 2021 and will be available for scheduled online streams through the month of August. 

Theater Alliance Presents THE BLACKEST BATTLE Beginning This Month

As the final digital film of the theater season, Theater Alliance presents a world premiere production of acclaimed artist Psalmayene 24‘s The Blackest Battle. A love story that calls attention to Black-on-Black gun violence, the film is set in the future, when reparations have been made and youth get high on a drug called Hope.

With songs composed by Nick tha 1da and visual art from Wesley Clark, Camilla King, Maliah Stokes, and Rodney “Buck” Herring, the film is half music video, half graphic-novel-come-to-life, and utterly unlike any other work of digital theater that has come out of the past year.

“Working with Psalmayene 24 on this commission has been a tremendous gift,” says Raymond O. Caldwell, who directed the film. “Theater Alliance committed to this play four years ago – we knew then that it would be a powerful, dynamic, and significant work of theater, and it has become even stronger with every draft. Theater Alliance is proud to support and produce local playwrights like Psalm.”

The Blackest Battle was commissioned from Psalmayene 24 and Nick tha 1da in 2017. In the years since, it has been written, developed, workshopped, and revised through Theater Alliance’s Hothouse New Play Development program – with performances at the John F. Kennedy Center’s Page to Stage Festival, as well as the Word Becomes Action Festival. Originally slated for live performance in summer of 2020, the production has been reimagined for the screen.

“Our digital production team has grown in leaps and bounds over this season’s work,” says Caldwell. “It is thrilling to bring this film to audiences, knowing we are at the forefront of innovative storytelling – pushing the boundaries of what theater is and can do.”

The Blackest Battle premieres on July 31, 2021 and will be available for scheduled online streams through the month of August.

Under the guidance and expertise of photography director Kelly Colburn, as well as art director Jonathan Dahm Robertson, Theater Alliance has again recreated the intimate theatrical nature of its work for the camera. The production has been pre-recorded, utilizing stringent safety precautions.

This production is made possible through the support of the National Foundation for the Arts, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, the Revada Foundation, and the Arts Forward Fund. Season 18 at Theater Alliance is generously sponsored by David and Jean Heilman Grier.

Purchase tickets at www.theateralliance.com or call 202-241-2539.

Full article by Stephi Wild for BroadwayWorld D.C. available here.

Dramaworks to Premiere THE DURATION by Bruce Graham

[Dramaworks] announced Wednesday another world premiere, the American playwright and educator Bruce Graham’s The Duration

Playwright Bruce Graham, whose "The Duration" will have its world premiere Feb. 5 at Palm Beach Dramaworks.
Playwright Bruce Graham

The play, which is about a young woman who goes on weekly hikes to a remote cabin to try to unravel the mystery of her historian mother’s abrupt disappearance, received a reading in March at Dramaworks, and was so well-received that the company has decided to mount a full staging.

“We’re delighted to have the opportunity to produce the world premiere of ‘The Duration,’ which created a lot of excitement when we presented the reading,” Hayes said.

The Duration opens Feb. 4. 

Read the full article from the Palm Beach Daily News here.

Melisa Tien’s SWELL to Premiere Online at HERE

Created by 26 artist-collaborators, Swell weaves together ten original, new music compositions by ten composers.

Melisa Tien

Playwright, lyricist, and librettist Melisa Tien is the creator and producer of the upcoming live, online song cycle Swell, presented by HERE from March 17-21, 2021. This contemporary work about immigrants and children of immigrants, written by immigrants and children of immigrants, is directed by Elena Araoz with music direction by Tian Hui Ng.

“Right now, the U.S. feels like it’s on the brink of so many things – politically, economically, socially. Immigrant stories, especially ones that humanize the people they’re about, help highlight those who are often left behind when, for example, a medical disaster happens. Swell reminds us these are real people, simply trying to make their way, like everyone else,” Melisa said of the piece’s subject and timeliness.

Swell features the work of composers and lyricists Joshua Cerdenia, Carolyn Chen, Justine F. Chen, Or Matias, Tamar Muskal, Polina Nazaykinskaya, Leyna Marika Papach, Izzi Ramkisson, Kamala Sankaram, Jorge Sosa, Stavit Allweis, Konstantin Soukhovetski, and Melisa Tien, who draw from their personal histories and cultures. Hailing from Mexico, India, Israel, Japan, Trinidad, the Philippines, Russia, and Taiwan, the composers’ unique, surprising, and deeply human stories are expressed through voice, piano, cello, and violin.

Performers include mezzo-soprano Hai-Ting Chinn, soprano Mimi Hilaire, tenor Alok Kumar, and baritone Ricardo Rivera. Instrumentalists include members of the Victory Players Nathan Ben-Yehuda, Clare Monfredo, and Elly Toyoda. Additional collaborators are Video Designer Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, Audio Engineer Jon Robertson, Video Engineer Kris Kirkwood, Production Stage Manager Neelam Vaswani, and Assistant Stage Manager Alyssa K. Howard.

As an online presentation, Swell is building upon the wealth of knowledge that has accumulated over the past year in live, online productions. It will feature singers singing together remotely, and aims to incorporate accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, through captioning, an interpreter, and a new application that conveys music in a dynamic visual format.

Melisa summarizes the origins of the piece: “The seed for Swell started when I attended a new music festival a few years ago and was struck by a piece of Nathalie Joachim’s. It was tied to her home country of Haiti and I recall being so moved by it, partly because it put me in mind of Taiwan, where my own family is from. I started to wonder where the other U.S.-based new music writers were, who came from outside the U.S. I couldn’t think of any, yet I was convinced there had to be new music writers out there who identified as immigrants, or children of immigrants, who had stories to tell, and I wanted to hear them.”

Half of the program will be presented on Wednesday, March 17 at 8pm ET, and the second half will be presented on Thursday, March 18 at 8pm ET. The full program will stream on Friday and Saturday, March 19-20, at 8pm ET, and on Sunday, March 21 at 6pm ET. Audiences can purchase a sliding-scale ticket ($5-50) and will receive details for a password-protected video on HERE’s website.

Melisa Tien is a playwright, lyricist, librettist, producer, and educator. She is the author of the plays Untitled Landscape, Best Life, The Boyd Show, Yellow Card Red Card, and Familium Vulgare, co-author of the music-theater works Swell, Daylight Saving, and Mary, and co-producer of the audio experience/podcast Active Listening. A New Dramatists resident playwright, Melisa is a recipient of a grant from the NYC Women’s Fund for Media, Music, and Theatre, a commissionee of the Ensemble Studio Theatre/Sloan Project, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow in Playwriting/Screenwriting. She teaches experimental theatrical writing at Sarah Lawrence College. BA, UCLA; MFA, Columbia University. www.melisatien.com.

Read the full article from Broadway World here.