Wednesday, April 01, 2015

A Lot on Our Minds and Hidden Faces of Courage: Written by Mary Driscoll

A Lot on Our Minds
Hidden Faces of Courage
Written by Mary Driscoll
Produced by OWLL, On With Living and Learning
Cambridge YMCA Theater
820 Massachusetts Ave.
Thursday, March 26, 7:30
Friday, March 27, 7:30
Saturday, March 28, 4:00 & 8:00

by Wendell Smith

The message of A Lot on Our Minds and Hidden Faces of Courage is being celebrated with standing ovations in the theater of the Cambridge YMCA. At least it was last Saturday night and, according to the friend who urged me to review it, it had also been greeted with enthusiasm the night before. So it is successfully fulfilling the intention of its author, Mary Driscoll and of OWLL (On With Living and Learning,) the organization she founded and which is producing these performances, "to amplify the voices of women and promote social change."

I had come expecting a play, but I was given a dramatized essay, a polemic with a message so compelling that it overwhelms aesthetic considerations. However, my aesthetic considerations hope that Ms. Driscoll is not satisfied with this fulfillment of her intentions, because, if she were to proceed and give this robust skeleton of a play the muscles and nerves it needs to run, then she would have a play capable of filling a theater much larger than the Cambridge Y’s.

The performance is a eulogy for her friend, La Verne, a woman Driscoll met twelve years ago shortly after La Verne had been released from prison. It fulfills a promise  "to tell her story with the hope that it would encourage other women who were facing the challenges of reentry."

The performance begins with Giftson Joseph and Dexter Julian Miller standing behind two music stands reading A Lot on Our Minds. It is straight exposition; presumably their story because they read in the first person about the trials of women in prison and the effects of their mother’s imprisonments had upon them. Giftson makes a joke about how he got his name: his birth was unplanned, a gift, and he was a son. Following this prologue, we are given a loose collection of scenes in which Mabel, who represents La Verne, and a cohort of five women recently released from prison, Destiny, Imania, Amy, Angel and Claire, narrate their histories. Most of what we learn about them comes in expository soliloquies. Fortunately this cast is capable of keeping all this exposition from numbing us.

The production had its excellent moments, enough to keep my critical persona in his seat and wanting more. I'll mention two, because they illustrate that Miss Driscoll has the chops to make this compelling theater if she should choose to do so.

In the first, one of the women is dealing with an overworked social worker/bureaucrat (well done by Johnnie McQuarley, the only male in the cast.) As he gives her a bundle of papers that are supposed to have the information she needs to manage her reentry to the world after prison, the air around her becomes filled with pieces of paper that threaten to bury her in their drift and the dialogue becomes an exchange with the anarchic rhyming rhythm of Dr. Seuss. How much better is the sarcasm of such a sad comedy for the stage than being told, "It doesn't work."?

In another scene Mabel narrates an episode when she was consecutively raped. While her cohort supports her, she starts her tale and, as the raping begins, she dissociates from her violations by reciting the Lord's Prayer. Each recitation represents a rape, the recitations becoming more rapid and muddled; are these sins or trespasses or transgressions or worse? And by whom are they to be forgiven? This is theater; action, words not as information, but as weapons.

Driscoll is dealing with powerful material here and she has an excellent cast, Liana Asim as Mabel; Shalaye Camillo, Theresa Chiasson, Alissa Cordeiro, Chris Everett and Ela Quezada as the cohort of prisoners/freed women; and Johnnie McQuarley as the social worker, other incidental males and Mabel’s son. They are able to lift this performance out of its mass of exposition so that, although it has a way to go to be a play, you can think of your ticket as a Kickstarter donation, and the evening’s entertainment your reward for supporting OWLL’s campaign.

*********Wendell Smith is a retired M.D. and a former reporter for the Boston Phoenix. 

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