The Fire This Time Festival 2019: 10th Year of African American Plays

Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” gets a spin-off of sorts in the play “White Shoes” by York Walker,  when Beneatha, Walter Younger’s sister, is approached in school by the wealthy George Murchison (whom Walter in Hansberry’s play insulted by pointing out his “faggoty-looking white shoes.”)  George apologizes to Beneatha for their disastrous last date (in which, as we know from Hansberry’s play, she rebuffed his advances, and dismissed him as a fool.) But now he comes back with renewed ardor – and an ulterior motive.

“White Shoes” is among the cleverest and most effective of the eight plays in this year’s 10 Minute Play Festival, the signature event of the tenth annual Fire This Time Festival, which runs through February 3, 2019 at Kraine’s Theater.

Playwright Walker’s homage to Hansberry feels apt. Over the past decade, the annual festival, created to showcase early-career playwrights of African and African-American descent, has presented some of the first New York plays of such now-celebrated writers as Katori Hall (known for such later works as The Mountaintop and Our Lady of Kibeho), Dominique Morisseau (Pipeline, Skeleton Crew  and the book for the forthcoming Broadway musical “Ain’t Too Proud”), and Jocelyn Bioh (School Girls or the African Mean Girls Play) .

This year’s offerings are not particularly political, although they do touch (often obliquely) on issues as varied as gentrification, immigration, protest, feminism, homophobia, and affirmative action. The best are those that understand the demands and limitations of the ten-minute format. The more ambitious are clearly aiming for future development.

C.O.G.S. with Tia DeShazor as Vanessa and Virginia Ann Woodruff as Auntie Kay. Photograph by Garlia Cornelia

In “C.O.G.S,” by Samantha Godfrey ,  a young woman Vanessa from Brooklyn and her aunt Kay from Georgia take a break from protesting outside a detention center in Atlanta as part of a nationwide day of protests against the Trump administration’s immigration policy of separating children from their parents. They debate the merits of street protests, Vanessa hardly seeing the point, Kay revealing what protest has meant for her. She suggests that it is part of her faith that she speak out for these Children of God, even though—no, especially since – the members of her (mostly white) church are so complacent.

“Just Another Saturday in the Park” by Bernard J. Tarver, pits new homeowner Heather against Sarita, a woman who plays a djembe (a bongo-like African drum) in the park adjacent to her park.  Heather has been asked to speak to Sarita on behalf of the new neighborhood improvement association, of which Heather is vice president. Sarita, we eventually learn, is herself a neighborhood homeowner who has met every Saturday for the past six years in the park as a member of a group of black women who call themselves the African Ancestral Drum Circle.

Garlia Cornelia’s “Snapshots” takes place over the course of a decade in the apartment of Renee, an aspiring musician, and her husband Léopold, an immigrant from Africa. It chronicles the deterioration of their relationship during get-togethers with a confusing array of friends and family, marked by a series of snapshots, projected onto a screen as if captured for an iPhone or Facebook.

In “Run.Hide.Fight” by Adrienne Dawes, Soloway and Linnea are part of a team that trains corporate employees in emergency preparedness, when another trainer bursts in. “Let me talk to you,” he pleads to Linnea. And he has a gun. Is this part of the training – or for real?

“White Shoes” is not just among the cleverest in the festival; it’s also the funniest, thanks to Cherrye J. Davis as Madeline Jefferson, Beneatha Younger’s close friend and guitar teacher, who butts in between George and Beneatha

‘Sisterhood in the Time of the Apocalypse’ by Kendra Augustin presents two estranged sisters getting to know one another in a hot air balloon, as the world beneath them is coming to an end.

In “Sister” by Kezia Waters, Elisha brings home Colin the boy he’s dating to his Grandma, a talkative old lady who insists that everybody call her Sister, who’s busy cooking, and giving advice. It has the loveliest little ending when Colin says just the right thing.

“Scholarship Babies” by Francisca Da Silveira ends the evening with an edgy, cynical/political and funny flourish, with three black preppies sitting on a gentrified dock in Boston, having missed their prep school reunion on a cruise ship, and lamenting their adult lives. Felicia confesses that she didn’t get the graduate grant she was expecting.

“How is that possible? You’re like the epitome of token.”

“Out of all of us? Your story beats my deadbeat dad story and Kevin’s three thousand brothers and sisters story.” They assume the reason is: No more affirmative action. “Orange dildo and Cruella DeVos got rid of it months ago.”






Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

Leave a Reply