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2017 Philadelphia Fringe Festival Review: ‘Cotton&Gold’ by AMH Productions at Circle of Hope

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Cotton&Gold is a new play by writer/director Alyse M. Hogan, a 2017 University of the Arts graduate, and her company AMH Productions, which describes itself as “a new theater company looking to invest in the future of young artists of color.” This is reflected in the personnel of the production: most are current or recent students at UArts.

Dray Cunningham and Aaron Bell. Photo by Rovell Seth Vialva.

Dray Cunningham and Aaron Bell. Photo by Rovell Seth Vialva.

The play is an Afrofuturist look at race and class in the US, inspired partially by the Black Wall Street of Greenwood, Oklahoma (destroyed in a racist massacre in 1921), and the Pruitt-Igoe Housing Projects in St. Louis. This Fringe production is a staged concert reading on what seems to be the “First Pulse” of the play; it shows a lot of passion and ambition and quite a bit of promise, and many of the challenges that youthful, very ambitious, projects struggle to overcome.

The strongest elements of the current version are the most stylized portions – the choreographed movements (by Morriah “Peanut” Young) and descriptions of unstaged movement (stage directions read by Aliria Johnson), as well as the stylized makeup and costume pieces (Kirstie Floyd, who also serves as dramaturg). Less effective are the more conventional “playtext” elements. Although Ms. Hogan (and I assume Ms. Johnson as dramaturg) are obviously familiar with a wide range of contemporary history and theory of race in America, both the ideas and the characters often felt explained to me rather than dramatized or theatricalized. I found myself confused by the world-building of the play, particularly wondering how much of it would be coherent to an audience without the explanations of the world contained in the playbill and the recited stage directions. And at the end of 70 minutes, I was unclear what the central emotional or thematic thread I was supposed to follow was. To be frank, I would be astonished to not see a theater artist whose intellectual and stylistic ambitions are as fierce as Ms. Hogan’s struggle with most of these elements at this point in her career.

More important are the many glimmerings of a voice that are present. I suspect that a fully-realized production of a piece of this size – 13 characters and frequent changes of scene between at least a half-dozen locales – is unlikely, but I would be interested in seeing the full story presented with fewer stage directions to distract me from the actors. I hope this isn’t the last I hear of AMH Productions.

Running Time: 70 minutes, with no intermission.

Cotton&Gold plays through September 16, 2017 and is presented by AMH Productions at Circle of Hope – 2214 South Broad St., in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the Fringe box office at (215) 413-1318, or purchase them online.

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