Fort Greene

Last week for ‘Rachel’ and ‘Las Meninas’ in Fort Greene

Lost history of black lives at New Brooklyn Theatre, Irondale Center

August 27, 2015 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Two plays, “Rachel” and “Las Meninas” will be wrapping up Aug. 29 at the New Brooklyn Theatre's Irondale Center in Fort Greene. Shown: A scene from “Las Meninas,” which tells the story of the love affair between Louis XIV's wife Queen Marie-Therese and Nabo, an African dwarf. Photo courtesy of Annabel Clark

Two gripping plays written by African-American women, “Rachel” and “Las Meninas,” will be wrapping up Aug. 29 at the New Brooklyn Theatre, in the Irondale Center in Fort Greene.

Both works push buttons, portray the wreckage produced by unstifled power, and reclaim the lost histories of black lives.

The moving “Rachel,” Angelina Weld Grimké’s lynching drama written in 1916, was the first play ever staged by an black woman playwright.

Over the course of the production Rachel, played by the talented Santoya Fields, transforms from an upbeat and carefree young sunbeam to a broken soul afraid of bringing little brown and black children into an unjust world. As her life breaks into pieces, so does the set, its sections pushed apart while two adorable, tiny twin girls play patty cake, indifferent to the fragmentation taking place around them.

The trigger for Rachel’s transformation is her mother’s revelation that her father and an unknown brother were murdered down South in a lynching. Though her mother (Bonita Jackson) hid the nature of their deaths from Rachel and her brother Tom (nimbly played by Damone Williams), the repercussions of this repressed history echo down through the generations.

With its century-old theatrical conventions juxtaposed against the chilling, almost diabolical, audio of recent violent police encounters with black people, including Sandra Bland and Eric Gardiner, the play remains provocative. Directed by Courtney Harge, its message that “Black Lives Matter” is timeless.  

The contemporary play “Las Meninas,”by Pulitzer Prize-winning Lynn Nottage, tells the fascinating story of a love affair between Louis XIV’s wife Queen Marie-Therese (Samantha Levitt) and Nabo (Rance Nix), an African dwarf brought to her as a pet. “Las Meninas” is told through the imagination of their dark-skinned daughter Louise Marie (Toni Ann Denoble), who, according to some stories, was banished to a French convent for the rest of her life.

The production jumps between the year 1664 in Versailles and 1695 in the daughter’s convent. Like “Rachel,” “Las Meninas,” directed by Jonathan Solari, travels through time to reclaim the history of the disinherited.

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“The American theatrical canon has been like a locked box with the keys given out to too narrow a range of writers,” Solari, the company’s artistic director, said in a statement. “Our company has always used theatre to provoke conversation. Now we’re turning the conversation back onto the American theatre.”

Jeff Strabone, the company’s chairman of the board, said, “Black playwrights, past and present, remain under-produced. We want to be one of the companies trying to correct that longstanding imbalance.”

The conversation continues after each show, with New Brooklyn Theatre’s hallmark talk-back dialogues between the cast, the audience and special invited guests.

A recent performance of “Rachel” featured an audience Q & A with director Harge and Rene Marie Barron, author and professor at Julliard. Barron is writing a book on “Las Meninas’” playwright Nottage.

Strabone said that New Brooklyn Theatre’s production was the New York premiere of “Las Meninas.”

“Nottage was here on Aug. 8,” he told the Eagle, adding that she may return for one of the final performances.

“Rachel” will be presented on Thursday, Aug. 27 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 29 at 7:30 p.m. “Las Meninas” is showing on Friday, Aug. 28 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 29 at 1 p.m.

New Brooklyn Theatre’s Irondale Center is located at 85 South Oxford St. Tickets can be reserved at www.artful.ly/new-brooklyn-theater

Tickets are free, and donations are appreciated.

 

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