Black women, identity and freedom are the shared threads running through three original pieces being performed under the combined title "A Voice I Will Send" at the Theatre Project.
Passionate and often deeply personal, this trio of poetic playlets features some strong writing and performances. But the evening as a whole could stand some pruning, and the didactic passages should be the first to go.
The most effective of the one-acts is "Truth Behind Quiet Veils," an autobiographical work, written and performed by Ieasha Prime. The piece begins with Prime completely swathed in black, only her eyes visible. Her garment itself is theatrical -- filled with historical and cultural significance, an air of mystery and more than a few stereotyped associations.
It is these associations -- from terrorism to subservience -- that Prime seeks to overturn. And it is a measure of her success that, after seeing this work, theatergoers are unlikely to look at women dressed in this manner quite the same way again.
Prime's performance displays considerable range, from the soft-spoken fervor with which she describes her conversion to Islam (which occurred as a youth ambassador to two Muslim countries), to the gentle humor with which she re-enacts her Christian family's reaction. In the end, however, the answer she gives to her own question: "Don't you feel oppressed?" is too pat for a piece whose most admirable quality is its refusal to settle for easy answers.
The other largely autobiographical work is playwright/performer Denise Gantt's "Under the Veil of St. Theresa," a solo piece so personal it begins and ends with her own private language.
Gantt's tale, which includes growing up in one of the first families to integrate her Baltimore neighborhood, contains a lot of rage.
She's angry at everything from drive-by shootings to the fact that she lives in a city where medical science can separate Siamese twins but politicians can't come up with enough books to teach children their ABC's.
Gantt uses filmed segments to illustrate some of her points, and her text and body movements can be highly expressive.
"Better for me to tell my story than to live your lie," she tells us. By making her story too broad, however, she mutes its ultimate impact.
The final piece on the bill, Lakia Green's "Grey," is structured as a lesson in color theory delivered by Lisa Biggs, with the assistance of TB Christie and Vanessa Thomas. Green's irreverence, typified by a comic skit about hairstyles, and her willingness to take on such tough subjects as self-hatred and blacks' prejudice against blacks, is reminiscent of George C. Wolfe's landmark "The Colored Museum." But even more than its companion pieces, "Grey" is in dire need of editing.
Co-produced by Baltimore's Medusa Theatre Company and Washington's Artistic Connection, the three one-acts share designer Craig A. Young's abstract set, which suggests an Alexander Calder sculpture of a giant fish -- an image that is at once ancient and modern. The set is also a reminder of the virtue of simplicity, a virtue occasionally forgotten in the works themselves.
The program notes for "A Voice I Will Send" refer to "the failure of American culture to recognize black women and Muslim women as full human beings." Given the chance to begin correcting that problem, these three playwrights clearly have so much to say, they couldn't contain themselves.
Their sincerity and intensity are unmistakable, but with more focus and less lecturing, their voices would carry farther.
'A Voice I Will Send'
Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Through March 7
Pub Date: 2/23/99