XX Chromosome Genome Project, playing at the Hamilton Arts Center Black Box Theater in Baltimore, is a sensuous, riveting tale of women on the brink of self-acceptance and emancipation. Written & directed by S Ann Johnson, the play was originally premiered at the Strand Theater Company at its 2010 Friends and Neighbors Festival.
Opening against a black box set with one colorful play poster center stage, eight women representing the flavors of cultures and life came bursting onto the stage with no apologies as they demanded to be heard. We learn immediately that these women or “flavors,” represent the diversity of international womanhood. The underlying theme of the opening was to demonstrate with pathos and urgency that women yearn to have their beauty acknowledged by the men in their lives.
With a capella singing and fluid movement the choreographed spoken word play made smooth transitions across musical genres. Each “flavor” had its special story of love, doubt, co-dependence, premarital dilemma and envy to scream, sing, cry or demand.
Perhaps its age speaking but I think XX Chromosome Genome Project is a coming of age piece. The women take little responsibility for the situations they find themselves in. The play takes the position that they are victims whether consciously or unconsciously. That being said, you can’t miss this show. It is a tribute to young women who are seeing the world through the lenses of their personal struggles and they want to be heard.
Writer-Director S Ann Johnson says she was influenced by the choreopoem play, Women Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, which she performed it at her alma mater, Penn State. When writing, XX Chromosome Genome Project, she saw it as an extension of her earlier participation in “Women Who Have…”at least in the beginning. However, as she began to expand her world view on the plight of women, her well-written play became not just a voice for African American women – but an intercultural symphony of women’s voices that are in the underbelly of cultural prejudices.
In Act One, black tights & long skirts with colorful tops helped convey the message that women regardless of where they live in the world endure the same emotional hardships. Act Two takes us to a museum where historical female figures educate us as to the little known hidden facts behind the strong women they represent. Here the costuming stole the show as sequined flappers and a glittery beaded hijab were interspersed by a sea of white garbed actors.
Shatoya Williams, flavor “White Chocolate” is a consummate actress in this ensemble and that’s saying a lot because all of the actors are excellent. Whenever Shatoya is on stage, she captivates and holds the audiences’ attention. Her monologue, “Broken Hearted Discarded” puts the cap on women who take downtrodden men into their lives, care for them only to find they dump them for a new ‘caregiver.’ Just fantastic acting!
Syra Masiglat, flavor “Lemon,” brought the Asian cultural issues on intercultural marriage, ethical mores and family traditions to light. Her portrayal of Asian women was superb and her flexibility at intoning the African American style of voice in group performances was flawless.
The actors were brilliant in their roles as they cautioned women not to let a man get the upper hand and to expect passions to change like the weather. Jessica Ruth Baker whose flavor was “Vanilla” gave a new twist to the white woman’s story. She wanted the audience to know that she must be understood as an individual and not stereotyped as a racist just because her skin is white. Jessica was strong in her portrayal and told me that she loves the role and has played it several times.
Naelis Ervin, flavor “Caramel” is the satin ribbon of the ensemble. As Co-Director and Choreographer she skillfully added thigh slaps, strategic movement and waves of bodies forming patterns on stage as they came together and broke apart. Her tearful portrayal of the inner city college graduate who wants to make it on her own without family help, and that of the sultry young woman who just couldn’t seem to get ‘satisfaction’ from her new lover, was show-stopping. Bravo!
What would a choreographed spoken word piece be without the honeyed, soulful songs of a talented songstress like Flavor, “White Chocolate,” Karis Baker. Her liquid, solemn rendition of the Middle Eastern song sung behind the penetrating story of abuse some Islamic women experience and beautifully told by Flavor, “Ginger,“ Abby Cocke, was phenomenal.
Having recently seen the documentary, Dark Girls, I truly appreciated the stirring sentiments of Erica Bridges, Flavor, “Chocolate.” Erica forged the image of African American women who never have their beauty valued. What a pity because in song and acting, this young actor demonstrates that color has nothing to do with ability.
Director Johnson is an up-and-coming bright, talented actor, writer and director. Her themes were well-developed and the words precise in their meaning and lyrical in their interpretation. Congratulations to her and to the entire cast of XX Chromosome Genome Project. You have a message and messengers who know how to tell a story with energy, joy, and soul!
XX Chromosome Genome Project plays tonight at 8 PM and tomorrow, June 30, 2013, at 2 and 7 PM at the Hamilton Arts Center Black Box - 5440 Harford Road, in Baltimore, MD. Though the address for the theater is listed as 5440 Harford Road, the actual entrance is on Hamilton Avenue. It is located on the same block as Harford Fare market. Use 2905 Hamilton Ave, Baltimore, MD for direction purposes. For tickets, purchase them at the door or online. The show will also play at Artscape on July 19th at 11:30 AM.