Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Black Is the Color of My Voice
Also see Bill's review of Baritones UnBound
Summer is always more exciting because of the burst of energy that comes from WestCoast Black Theatre Troupe's summer offerings. This year they begin with founding member Apphia Campbell in her play Black Is the Color of My Voice which is "loosely inspired by the story of jazz singer Nina Simone." After her days with the fledgling WBTT, Ms. Campbell graduated from Florida International University, spent some time in New York and of late has been residing in Shanghai, China. She developed this piece there, is fine tuning it in her hometown of Sarasota en route to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
We discover our heroine just after the death of her beloved father, as she prepares to isolate herself for a three day cleansing, devoid of cigarettes and alcohol. This becomes a platform for vivid memories of her life, tainted by racism and connected to the civil rights movement. Music is used sparingly, bits here and there to enliven the text with three full songs in key moments.
The writing is clear and concise; I strongly connected with the major emotions. In the first act, our lead character, here called Nina Bordeaux, is rejected at the famed Curtis Institute because they have "students more worthy." I felt the sting of the racism deep inside me. A performance of "I Put a Spell on You" illustrated and closed the first act. The second act sequence about a husband's violent abuse was perhaps the most searing portrayal I have ever seen on stage. The writing is well served by the intensely honest acting. I am not a big fan of Nina Simone; I prefer jazz to Ms. Simone's rhythm and blues, although I acknowledge her greatness as an artist. It seems to me that two ladies who overlapped were the absolute peak of this repertoire, Ms. Simone and later period Abby Lincoln. Ms. Campbell's singing gives the audience a good sense of what was great about the artist she is saluting. Here we have yet another example of great artistry touched earlier by the magic of Nate Jacobs.
Direction is credited to Arran Hawkins as well as sound design. Set pieces from the company's earlier production of The Whipping Man have been pressed into service. In a conversation with Ms. Campbell after the performance I was informed that these will not be traveling to future engagements of the show.
Black Is the Color of My Voice presented by WestCoast Black Theatre Troupe, 1646 10th Way, Sarasota, Florida, 366-1505. Through June 22, 2014. For more information, visit www.wbttsrq.org.