Corrections or additions?

This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the February 6, 2002

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Solo Turns at Passage

When is a playwright more than a playwright? When she

or he is also the featured actor in their own play.

Following close on the heels of McCarter Theater’s reprise production

by playwright-actor Dael Orlandersmith, Passage Theater opens its

second annual Solo Flights festival on Wednesday, February 6, with

the preview performance of "Manchild in the Promised Land"

starring Joseph Edward. The show opens a four-week festival of

one-person

performances that runs to March 2.

Solo Flights Festival shows are presented in repertory, on alternate

days, Wednesdays through Sundays. June Ballinger, producing artistic

director at Passage, says the festival format offers the opportunity

for interest in the shows to build over time, and by word-of-mouth,

so that playgoers can return to see all four performing artists over

a month-long time span. The festival concludes with two performances

of "Notes of a Negro Neurotic," written and performed by Nancy

Giles, playing Friday and Saturday, March 1 and 2.

"The Solo Flights Festival provides an opportunity to see original

and provocative work by superb talent, directly from New York, in

a unique solo format," says Ballinger. "Whether it’s Nancy

Hasty performing 15 characters, or Yale sensation Johnny Kwon

combining

his athleticism with his Korean-American and surfer-boy spin,

audiences

can expect exciting theater in an intimate setting."

"Manchild in the Promised Land" (previously produced at the

American Place Theater in New York), is performed by Joseph Edward

and adapted for the stage by Edward and Wynn Handman. Its source is

Claude Brown’s classic African-American autobiography of the same

name about growing up on the streets of Harlem in the 1940s and ’50s.

Ballinger says she is finding more frequently that

today’s

actors, as they mature, are looking for ways to take their destiny

as actors more under their own control. "Instead of seeking to

win a role that fits them, these actors create a show and then work

to get it presented," she says. "I see a trend among actors

to work and not be at the mercy of the industry."

"Florida Girls," written and performed by Nancy Hasty, is

a work in the tradition of Lily Tomlin, in which Hasty creates 15

unique characters focused on a beauty pageant. Her characters include

herself as a 12-year-old, her parents, grandmother, sisters, and a

supporting cast of seven.

"Hasty’s show is autobiographical, about a white Florida woman

growing up in the Florida panhandle," Ballinger explains. "She

is someone who is both a wonderful actress and a wonderful writer,

someone whose work has value beyond just venting her own family story.

The audience can recognize themselves in the story, and recognize

a commonality of experience, particularly if it’s across

cultures."

"TranceZenDance" is written and performed by the festival’s

youngest member, John Woo Taak Kwon. A recent graduate of Yale, Kwon’s

show is comprised of spoken words, stories, and dance in which he

combines his Asian-ness with his California surfer boy upbringing.

He’s also credited with a good ear for accents and a perceptive eye

for racial foibles. Kwon’s is the only one of the four shows being

developed at Passage by the artist, with Passage resident director

Tony Petito.

"Notes of a Negro Neurotic," written and performed by Nancy

Giles, is billed as a show that skewers the face of racism, both black

and white. Giles, who brought "Black Comedy: The Wacky Side of

Racism" to Passage in 1999, spent three years with Chicago’s famed

Second City comedy troupe. She played Frankie in the ABC-TV drama,

"China Beach," and her movies include "Big" and

"Working

Girl."

"My one-person show is a personal monologue about what it means

to be black in this business and what `blackness’ means to me,"

says Giles. "I want to make people laugh and I want to entertain

them, but I also want to provoke thought and discussion about issues

of race, race relations, feminism, and sexism." Whereas the

politically-correct

’80s and ’90s taught that racial stereotypes are rude and one should

not laugh, Giles maintains that laughter is just what stereotypes

deserve.

The burgeoning world of solo theater has roots in the rich

African-American

storytelling tradition brought to the U.S. during the slave trade

era. Authors, artists, and musicians have all adapted what were once

oral practices into uniquely American art forms. Solo theater also

profits from the performance art movement. Yet Ballinger notes that

each Solo Flights actor comes to their work with a mission.

Edwards, soon to be seen in a movie with Chris Rock, has a sense of

his mission that keeps him working with kids in the public schools.

And Kwon, who follows Zen Buddhism, also describes his purpose as

one of spirit uplift. "He says he’s working toward peace of mind

and working toward peace."

"I have found among these artists a sense of personal mission

that’s almost spiritually driven," says Ballinger. "They feel

a sense of purpose, a responsibility to what they see as a God-given

gift. They want to touch an audience, to heal, and to transform

it."

— Nicole Plett

Solo Flights, Passage Theater, Mill Hill Playhouse,

Front and Montgomery streets, Trenton, 609-392-0766. $15 & $20.

Manchild in the Promised Land starring Joseph Edward.

Preview Wednesday, February 6, 6 p.m. Also plays Friday, February

8, 8 p.m. Sunday, February 10, 5 p.m. Saturday, February 16, 8 p.m.

Sunday, February 24, 5 p.m.

Florida Girls starring Nancy Hasty, Saturday, February

9, 8 p.m. Sunday, February 17, 5 p.m. Wednesday, February 20, 6 p.m.

Friday, February 22, 8 p.m.

TranceZenDance starring Johnny Kwon, Wednesday,

February

13, 6 p.m. Thursday, February 14, 6 p.m. Opening Friday, February

15, 8 p.m. Thursday, February 21, 6 p.m. Saturday, February 23, 8

p.m.

Notes of a Negro Neurotic, by Nancy Giles. Friday, March

1, 8 p.m. Saturday, March 2, 8 p.m.


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