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AfroSolo Arts Festival 

The peanut gallery weighs in on the annual performance fest's mixed bag

Wednesday, Aug 18 2004
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The 11th annual AfroSolo had a small but vocal peanut gallery on opening weekend. A few audience members hooted when something was funny, sighed or blew their noses when it was boring, made wise remarks, and got up to walk around. I'm in favor of this. (See above.) The gallery's judgment was rude but wise: At first some snickered at Paradise Freejahlove's impersonations of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Muhammad Ali, in a piece called Shock the World, about a street-corner drunk who envisions those figures alive again in 2004. But when Freejahlove warmed up to passionate rants about America's lack of progress on race in the last 30 years, they hollered in appreciation. On the other hand, devorah major performed a series of poems called The Logics of Love that were full of words about love and war expressing nothing so much as major's own self-regard. The peanut gallery sighed and wandered around, unaware of acting discourteously to the city's current poet laureate.

Wayne Harris delivered a funny, sensitive show about his mother's death called Mother's Milk, with keenly acted portraits of the aging Mrs. Harris and a hellfire Pentecostal uncle. The gallery wasn't sure what to make of the young Harris character's obsession with joining a drum and bugle corps, early in the piece, but it went wild over his story of becoming the youngest person ever to be baptized at Pleasant Green Missionary Baptist Church. Venus Opal Reese's piece about hair, though, brought down the house. Split Ends was a kind of Vagina Monologues about loving your own kinky black hair. ("What would your hair say, in two words? 'Help me.' 'Release me.' 'Thank you.'") Reese mixed video, song, audience participation, and graceful dance to build a varied and elegant bit about self-acceptance. It was somewhat one-sided and preachy, but as a screed against pressing, perming, cornrowing, and straightening it had the whole audience (not just the peanut gallery) helpless with laughter.

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