Tuesday, November 2, 2010

From Breast Cancer to Broadway, Karamu House

(Brenda Adrine in "From Misery to a Ministry" by Lenice Bozeman one of 11 short plays in this production)

There are two kinds of people who should definitely see this show: people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and feel alone in the world and, even more importantly, women who avoid having mammograms for whatever reason. For the latter, this production could save your bacon.

As far as everyone else is concerned, From Breast Cancer to Broadway, now at Karamu House, is less a theatrical experience than an educational seminar wrapped in quick-mix emotion. Written by eleven African-American women who are breast cancer survivors, the micro-plays eschew believable character development for fast snapshots of people who could only become fully three-dimensional given more time on stage and more skillful playwriting chops.

This is not to minimize in any way what the authors have accomplished: they aren’t professional playwrights, nor do they choose to be. They are simply conveying their heartfelt thoughts on how breast cancer can affect those afflicted, as well as their friends and family. Many of the vignettes touch on the power of religion to help people find a path out of the darkness. And that is to be respected in full.

The plays are written by Kim Sadler, Lenice Bozeman, Loretta Embry, Cheryl Williams, Rose Dukes, DeVonna White, Sabrina Heath, Bernadette Scruggs, Cordi Stokes, Linda Wood-Wims, and Denise Richmond-Kelley. Script supervisor Bridgette Wimberly has brought the pieces together, after they were written as part of playwriting therapy at The Gathering Place, a breast cancer support group. And clearly, each of the playwrights has something important to communicate.

However, theater is not Western Union (or texting). And being hammered with messages for a couple hours, even necessary and valuable messages, can eventually lose its appeal.

Director Terrence Spivey helps some of his performers achieve nice moments. Stephanie Stovall appears as the same character in three different sketches, and she is a treat. Alternately fierce and funny, she makes her scenes click. Joyce M. Meadows is lovely as an Alzheimer’s patient, and Saidah Mitchell is also effective in the final playlet. But most of the actors are stuck in one-dimensional roles that are structured to teach, which is not the usual task of characters in a play.

So if you’re in the target groups mentioned above, by all means see this collection of deeply felt short works. Hey, it just might save your life, or the life of someone you love.

From Breast Cancer to Broadway

Through November 21 at the Karamu House,

2355 East 89th St., 216-795-7077

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