48 HOURS IN HARLEM is a unique program where Harlem 9 in association with the National Black Theater does this incredible project. They pick 6 playwrights, 6 directors, and 18 actors and charge them to write a ten-minute play based on the theme given them by Harlem 9. This year they were charged to craft six ten-minute raw impressions of 6 short stories and poems by James Baldwin and Sonia Sanchez and they had only 48 hours to write , direct and present them live in one thrilling final performance.
CALL HER SIMONE, this play written by DONJA R. LOWE and directed by RODNEY GILBERTwas inspired by Sonia Sanchez’s poem “2×2”. When it starts we see a woman crying and holding a funeral program. She looks at the picture or program and then holds it tight. Enter her son and daughter. It turns out that the deceased person was the woman’s daughter SIMONE who was gay and stopped by the police and killed over having weed in the car. Of course her mother doesn’t believe she had weed but then her brother reveals that he gave it to her that day. The mother and daughter turns on him for causing SIMONE’s death.
ROME IN LOVE, this play written by CYNTHIA ROBINSON and directed by JOHN ERIC SCUTCHINS was inspired by Sonia Sanchez’s short story “Dear Mama”. When this play starts we see and hear a man and woman making out. The woman called OSHUN is asked by the guy to come home with him and make love and leave her dirty husband. Her husband is sleeping right in the other room. He awakes and seems to catch the two making love on the table only the guy can’t be seen. He is actually dead from a drug overdose. OSHUN’s second husband is an asshole who puts her down at every turn and expects her to worship him. This is why she is dreaming of her first husband. She is also contemplating killing herself.
BLOOD, this play written by JORDAN E. COOPER and directed by STEVE H. BROADNAX IIIwas inspired by James Baldwin’s short story “Sonny’s Blues”. When this play starts there is a guy and girl standing on the corner. The girl is selling her “mixtape” as a up in coming Rapper. The guy is selling drugs. A woman enters and confronts the guy. Apparently he sold drugs to her son and he overdosed. She also had a drug addiction but she beat it to save her son from the “hood” and make him into a lawyer. The problem was that her son really wanted to be a Rapper and as she stepped on his dreams, he got closer and closer to wilding out for real. Jail and drugs was the final road he travelled on. A real cautionary tale about killing someone’s dreams.
ROTE, this play written by KELLEY GIROD and directed by CANDIS C. JONES was inspired by Sonia Sanchez’s short story “Just Don’t Never Give Up On Love”. When this play starts there is a woman sitting at a table with a book in her hand. We hear a male voice calling her named which is VIVIAN. He enters and starts to talk with VIVIAN but all VIVIAN wants to talk about is their sick mother who lays near death in the other room. VIVIAN is obsessed with all her drugs schedules and food schedules and her needs to be taken care of. VIVIAN wants to pass them all over to the guy who is her brother and the woman’s son. VIVIAN has been trapped taking care of her mom for so long she is taken for dead because she gave up her life for the cause.
SPOOKS, this play written by BERNARD J. TARVER and was directed by MONICA L. WILLIAMS was inspired by James Baldwin’s “Going To Meet The Man.” When this play starts we see a Black guy get shot dead in front of us by the police for resisting arrest during a traffic stop. Enter two people , a man and woman who uses their special powers to raise the guy from the dead back to life so they can talk to him. They tell him they are part of the ULU: Unresolved Lynching Unit. They take him to purgatory where they live and explain that they are part of a team of dead people who use their magic powers to taunt and terrorize White People who “Lynch” people of color without merit.
THE BALLARD O’ NIGG-O-LEE, this play written by STACEY ROSE and directed by MARY E. HODGES was inspired by James Baldwin’s short story, “Staggerlee Wonders”. When this play starts we see three Black people center stage arms locked together like a team. It is two men and a woman in the middle. They seem to be starting a minstrel show, only each time they start the minstrel show they wind up examining the state of their hero “Nigg-O-Lee”. They use a verbal device where after the tell that part of the story someone calls “TIME” and they start the minstrel show beginning again as if the show is just starting. But again we learn something else about the hero “Nigg-O-Lee”. This pattern returns over and over again as we go all the way untilNigg-O-Lee’s death.
This project is incredible and yields some great, great, work. All six plays were excellent. The acting and writing and direction was on point like they had a week or two to work on them. There were two stand out plays. The first is SPOOKS. This piece is like an episode of the X Files and is very successful with the audience. They literarily talk back to the actors and comment as the play moves on. After it was over the audience bursts into huge applause. The second play was THE BALLARD O’ NIGG-O-LEE also strikes a cord with the people in the audience. They get the game right off top and go with it full force. They are energized by the piece and lets the actors know it. The writing and direction of both plays were stellar. Both plays were a little unorthodoxed and needed to be handled with care but the directors made it plain and powerful by keep the focus on the words we were hearing more than trying to do too much movement or special effects. This festival is amazing and should not be missed, so next year I implore you to get a ticket and enjoy the pure creativity and artistry.