Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Magic Theatre Production of Relativity
Chris Smith, artistic director of Magic Theatre is calling Cassandra Medley's daring drama Relativity the African American Proof. The world premier is part of the Hot House trilogy that is currently playing at their theatre in Building D, Ft. Mason, San Francisco. Relativity is a play involving a scientific rivalry among three African American women played against the background of the new genetic research that is being done in the world today. This drama beautifully balances the fervent triangle of women.
Relativity was commissioned by the Sloan Foundation for new plays about science and technology, and it was considered the top play of the many that were submitted for consideration. Relativity explores the dilemma faced by young African America genetic researcher Kalima (Crystal Noelle) when her activist mother Claire (Tonia Jackson) wants her to support a theory that blacks are genetically superior to whites. The mother heads an organization called the Philadelphia Melanin Foundation founded by her deceased husband in 1974. The foundation believes that people with more melanin in their skin are more highly advanced than others.
Kalima works with her white boyfriend Dr. Dan McCallen (James Cutts) at the John Hopkins research department. This department is soon to be headed by famous African American genetic scientist Dr. Iris Preston (Jaxy Boyd), who has a fervent disgust for the pseudo-science of Kalima's mother. The Preston Foundation contends that the recent DNA evidence by Nobel Laureate James D. Watson shows that all humans are "99.9 percent identical," which means neither the white nor the black race is superior to the other. As Dr. Preston contends, "Even the albino's DNA is the same, so they are on equal bases with all races."
Kalima, who was trained by her mother Claire to inherit the Melanin Project institute, is having second thoughts about the "cult" theory. She even finds papers that indicate her father was starting to have doubts about the melanin assumption before his death. Confrontation occurs between mother and daughter when the 30 year old Kalima announces she is going to be on a PBS documentary with Dr. Preston to refute the Melanin institute hypothesis. The debates between Kalima, her mother and McCallen, who wanted to be the a spokesperson on PBS, are severe and exhilarating. There is also a rigorous altercation between Claire and her controlling lover Malik Oyami (Mujahid Abdul-Rashid) over Kalima's change of heart. The disputes are very equitable with both sides scoring points.
It takes a little while to get into the meat of the play. The first two scenes are mostly didactic lectures on stem cell research with scenes swiftly shifting back and forth from a lecture at Melanin Project to Kalima working in the John Hopkins lab with her live-in lover. Once you get over this hurdle, the fierce debates and wars of words rivet the audience through the brilliant acting of the five member cast .
Tonia Jackson gives a wonderful, vibrant performance as Claire while Mujahid Abdul-Rashid is excellent as Claire's lover, the smooth-talking salesman type for the pseudo-science institute. Crystal Noelle gives a compelling performance as daughter Kalima who is in a state of confusion as to where her loyalties lie. Jaxy Boyd as Dr. Preston gives an efficient performance while James Cutts gives a skillfully nuanced rendition of the live-in lover of Kalima. He is outstanding in his confrontation with Kalima in the second act.
Director Cooper-Anifowoshe gives the two hour drama a uniform flow, with each scene effortlessly shifting into the next. Jeff Rowling's set is spartan for the three-sided stage, with a background that has an ancient Egyptian mural with scientific hieroglyphics around an Egyptian winged eagle. Leon Mobley mans an African drum to give the audience an "overture" and he uses the drum effectively to intensify the arguments and word battles of the actors.
Relativity will be playing in repertory with The 13 Hallucinations of Julio Rivera and Drifting Elegant through June 30 at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Ft. Mason, San Francisco. For dates of each play please go to www.magictheatre.org or call 415-441-8822 for more information.