Magic Time!: ‘Safeguards’ by Brave Soul Collective at Anacostia Arts Center

What distinguishes the BSC esthetic is a sensitive, unsensational honesty that risks not reaching for laughs yet consistently reaches the heart.

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Brave Soul Collective is a hidden gem of theatrical truthtelling about black men who are LGBTQ. Periodically the collective surfaces with a one-night-only showcase of work by local writing and performing talent that if you blink you might miss. Impressively conceived and produced by Monte J. Wolfe, these collections of short plays unfailingly offer insight into what outsiders might consider a niche but those inside it know as life.

Brave Souls Collective producer, playwright, and performer Monte J. Wolfe.

What distinguishes the Brave Soul Collective esthetic is a sensitive, unsensational honesty that risks not reaching for laughs yet consistently reaches the heart. I’ve witnessed this emotional realism in programs such as Plot Twists (DC Black Theatre Festival) and Tenfold: An Evening of Brave Soul Performances (Kennedy Center Page-to-Stage Festival). BSC presented its most recent program at the Anacostia Arts Center on the occasion of National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and the We Will Be Heard National Day of Action.

Following are the plays and credits with brief notations to give a sense of the breadth of emotional relationships and topicality—HIV/AIDS, family, sex, dating and relationships, substance abuse, mental health. Progressing from quiet intensity at the beginning to more and more dramatic force, Safeguards included some especially stunning works in the second part.

Darrell Evans and Monte J. Wolfe in ‘Donuts & Dilemmas’

Donuts & Dilemmas
Performed by Darrell Evans & Monte J. Wolfe
Written by Jared Shamberger/Directed by Monte J. Wolfe
“Do we really need to get married?” After years of living together, Mitchell and Van confront what it means to keep one’s word.

Just Between Us Guys
Performed by Brave Soul Ensemble
In a scene played with the spontaneity of polished improv, members of a support group for black gay men that has been meeting for six months try to figure out how to move forward.

Monte J. Wolfe, Anthony Green, Yarde Noir, Jason Evan Barrett, Jammine Nance. and Rodderick Sheppard in ‘Just Between Us Guys’
Keanna Faircloth and Jammine Nance in ‘In the Chair’

In the Chair
Performed by Keanna Faircloth & Jammine Nance
Written & Directed by Monte J. Wolfe
“How many gay clients do you have?” In his first-time visit to a psychotherapist, a young man named Clayton (“CJ”) discloses his isolation, his parents’ nonacceptance of him, and his longing to connect with “a normal regular dude.”

Rodderick Sheppard, Anthony Green, Monte J.  Wolfe, and  Michael Sainte-Andress in ‘Chance of a Lifetime’

Chance of a Lifetime
Performed by Anthony Green, Michael Sainte-Andress, Rodderick Sheppard & Monte J.  Wolfe
Written & Directed by Alan Sharpe
An older man who lost scores of friends to AIDS but “dodged the HIV bullet” has now turned inward, selfishly surrounding himself with possessions and living a solitary life in suburbia. In a magical realism twist, he is visited by three of those deceased friends, who have come to do an intervention: to get him to stop wasting time and squandering his life.

Yarde Noir in ‘When the Smoke Clears’

When the Smoke Clears
Written & Performed by Yarde Noir
“Who am I without tina?” asks a young man, referring to his addiction to crystal meth—which, he realizes, is “a trip to wonderland” but not a way out of his isolation.

INTERMISSION

Stealth Bombs
Performed by Jason Evan Barrett, Keanna Faircloth & Anthony Green
Written & Directed by Monte J. Wolfe
A meeting between two exes who broke up over unfaithfulness leads to an apology and the revelation of a bigger lie: a drug addiction kept hidden.

For Colored Gays
Performed by Jason Evan Barrett, Anthony Green, Jammine Nance, Yarde Noir, Rodderick Sheppard & Monte J. Wolfe
Written by Anthony Green / Directed by Monte J. Wolfe & Anthony Green
“A black gay man / Has a better chance of contracting the virus / Than going to college / Than staying out of jail / Than finding real love.” A theater piece of extraordinary power and beauty, a poetic montage about same-gender-loving black men in the matter of Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls… and Word Becomes Flesh by Marc Bamuthi Joseph. Here, for instance, is the first impassioned monolog, from a gay son remembering his mother’s rejection of him:

The first time you cut me scarred the worse
I’d exposed my insides to you, my mother
Yet you dismissed me with a quick
As long as you don’t get Aids
A sudden jab that barely cut the skin
No blood was lost

The sharp remarks slit
More routinely and dug deeper
As long as you don’t look gay
Clean precise incisions
That broke open exactly where intended

You sliced through scabs
Spots where I had calloused
I grew numb to the hemorrhaging
As long as you don’t walk like a girl

I engraved myself with your razor
Never ruthless enough to shank the blade into you
Pierce your soul straight to the bone
Strike directly at your jugular
Like mother like son
Sling my own pointy edged weapon
Leaving raw pounds of your flesh on the floor
Watch you bleed out
I beg you to make your wounds mortal
Don’t simply nick me just enough that I feel it
Scream out that I disgust you if you truly love me
Please jam the knife through my heart
It’s more humane than another gash into my back

The rest of Anthony Green’s For Colored Gays is just as electrifying. The piece cries out to be produced again.

Darrell Evans and Patricia Williams Dugueye in ‘Left Behind’

Left Behind
Performed by Darrell Evans & Patricia Williams Dugueye
Written & Directed by Alan Sharpe
“No son of mine is going to be a faggot.” The estranged mother and father of a young gay man meet after his memorial service. He committed suicide. The father has the young man’s ashes in a CVS bag. The young man’s name was CJ—the character we met earlier seeking help from a shrink. Recriminations are exchanged, about their son and their failed marriage. The mother, a bishop, tried to get the boy into conversion therapy. The father would have none of that. They bicker bitterly, then, in a gut-punch ending, they exit in opposite directions…leaving the CVS bag behind.

Voices
Performed by Brave Soul Ensemble
Written by Monte J. Wolfe
“Love. Understanding. Respect. Love. We all just want to be heard.” A chorus of brave souls brings closure to a moving evening.

Next time Brave Soul Collective makes an appearance, see for yourself: They help make unmasked honesty happen.

Running Time: Two hours 5 minutes, including one intermission.

Safeguards was presented September 27, 2018, by Brave Soul Collective performing at the Anacostia Arts Center – 1231 Good Hope Road, S.E., in Washington, DC. For information about future events follow Brave Soul Collective on Facebook.

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John Stoltenberg
Among the hats John Stoltenberg wears are novelist and author, creative director and communications strategist, and avid theatergoer. Decades ago, in college, he began writing, producing, directing, and acting in plays. He continued through grad school—earning an M.F.A. in theater arts from Columbia University School of the Arts—then lucked into a job as writer-in-residence and administrative director with the influential experimental theater company The Open Theatre, whose legendary artistic director was Joseph Chaikin. Meanwhile Stoltenberg’s own plays were produced off-off-Broadway, and he won a New York State Arts Council grant to write plays. Then his life changed course: He turned to writing nonfiction and what became a distinguished career as a magazine editor. But he kept going to the theater, the art form that for him has always been the most transcendent and transporting and best illuminates the acts and ethics that connect us. He tweets at @JohnStoltenberg.

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