The Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez

In The Whipping Man, author Matthew Lopez explores not only the shame and demoralizing effects of slavery but the sense of responsibility all men must possess, regardless of their station in society. Simon, the older slave, advises John, a mischievous young man, to make amends with a white neighbor who is a witness to a wrong-doing of John's. Simon tells him "Make it right...You are living in this world now, not just serving in it."  

The characters consist of Simon and John, slaves who work on the DeLeon family plantation and Caleb DeLeon, the plantation owner's son. Simon, the older, wiser slave has watched the two boys grow up on the plantation, playing and getting into trouble together "like two peas in a pod" as Simon likes to say. 

Caleb has returned home from fighting for the Confederacy where he was badly injured in the war. He finds his fire-damaged home inhabited only by Simon and John. Simon displays real affection for the wounded young man and tends to his wounds, pressing John to help him through the sometimes grisly medical procedures.  

The DeLeon family is Jewish and they raise their slaves in the tradition as well. Now Caleb has returned from the war having lost his faith and Simon, unable to comprehend this, tries to bolster the ex-slave owner's spirit. John, however is more concerned with how Caleb's family can live in the faith but own other men, in particular fellow Jews, as the Torah specifically forbids. He asks Caleb if they are brothers in the faith, or still just heathens.  

The great Johnny Lee Davenport manages to play Simon as a good-natured, proud and spiritual man. He comes off more like a compassionate pragmatist stuck in a bad situation, rather than a subservient Uncle Tom. Simon just wants to carry on the good traditions like his religion while leaving the bad ones behind.  

John on the other hand, played to energetic perfection by Keith Mascoll, is a sly, humorous and very intelligent idealist who has taught himself to read and then uses that ability to cite passages that criticize the evils of the slave life he was born into. Hot-headed yet wily, he must hide the fact that he can read, as it was illegal for slaves to be literate. John hides behind a mask of simple tom-foolery but his actions belie his passions as we find he has been punished in the past for smuggling books to other like-minded slaves. Throughout the performance, Mr. Mascoll plays the multifaceted role with both humor and passion, nearly stealing the show at times with his delivery and wonderful sense of timing.  

Jesse Hinton, another locally-based talent  passionately plays the tortured Caleb DeLeon. Caleb's life has been undone and his home as he knows it is no more. In the end he will face even more disturbing truths as secrets are revealed. 

The Whipping Man makes one ponder the complexities of our human nature. Friendship, religion, freedom and responsibility all come under close scrutiny in this gritty and emotional yet at times funny tale of a group of people at an historic moment in time harshly effected by the choices made by them and for them.  

Theatre Mania Review of Love Jones by John Adekoje

Keith Mascoll in Love Jones 
(Photo © John Adekoje) 
Watch this playwright! Watch this actor!  
There were plenty of treats at the Annual Boston Theater Marathon on Sunday, but two talents stood out: the playwright John Oluwole Adekoje and the actor Keith Mascoll. Adekoje's riveting Love Jones -- one of 45 plays in the 10-hour marathon -- was sponsored by the New African Company, directed by Vincent E. Siders, and delivered with breathtaking energy by Mascoll. 

A gunshot is heard and an African American in a black, hooded sweatshirt stands silently, head bowed. He is not yet 17. Suddenly he erupts with life, courting someone unseen. We think it's a woman -- a woman whom his mother has warned him against. He's talking a blue streak and it's hard to catch every word in his music-like geyser of speech, but we feel the power of his emotions -- one instant a child's feelings, the next instant a man's, then a child's again. By the end, we realize that something more sinister than a person is the object of his longing. 

Such moments are sufficient reward for the intense labor that goes into creating (and attending!) a day's worth of 10-minute plays. Besides raising money for the Theatre Community Benevolent Fund and besides showcasing 45 sponsoring theaters, the marathon is an opportunity for great discoveries. 

It's not every playwright who can convey tragedy in a snapshot without being superficial. Adekoje succeeded in doing so, but most of the 10-minute playwrights went for poignancy or comedy. 

Fringe benefits :Love Jones by John Adekoje
Small companies consider big issues 

Its Love Jones, the festival’s only single-character piece, shows how life in an urban ghetto can lead a teen who’s just out to survive (and get a little play while he’s at it) to make choices that spell ruin. Under Vincent Siders’s intense direction, Keith Mascoll plays a young gangsta trying to sweet-talk a "sweet butter kind" of woman. He spews the cultural references in John Adekoje’s script like smoke from a flame to prove his cool. But flames leap when circumstances spin out of his control, and he lunges in your face when fear overtakes him. Adekoje has a sharp ear for the glib vulgarities of speech and thought characteristic of kids out to prove their gangsta slickness, and Mascoll glides from cockiness to terror to the unexpected finish. 

Serious Funny
Providence Black Repertory Company’s The Colored Museum 

Mileage may vary, but by and large we'll get farther laughing instead of crying. At least that was the observation of George C. Wolfe in The Colored Museum, also a conclusion of African-Americans historically. The jam-packed play is getting a rip-roaring rendition at the Providence Black Repertory Company 

. The 11 sketches on display all have the frolicking loopiness of skits on a black Saturday Night Live, but most also have an underlying serious intensity that make them ready for theatrical prime time. 

Although the comedy is broad and vaudevillian, the five actors, skillfully directed by Don Mays, each let us glimpse that they're capable of more. The sketches are double-layered too, as you'd expect from settings that run from a slave ship and a Vietnam War battlefield to a nightclub and a cooking show.  

The weaker sketches tend to make their points immediately and then merely draw them out. Lambert is an American expatriate chanteuse, freshly returned from Paris in the Josephine Baker mode, a southern drawl eventually, predictably, peeking out of her thick French accent. In a photo shoot for Ebony magazine ads, Bento and Keith Mascoll vamp and vogue as models “inside a world where everything is beautiful.” Dressed like Aunt Jemima, Marsha Z. West adds a little of this and a lot of that, from jazz to brash attitude, to cook up “a batch of Negroes” with just the right flavor. 

The matter of attitude comes up a lot, as a crucial survival mechanism. That's most explicit, and most effective, in a piece titled “The Gospel According to Miss Roj,” where Mascoll plays a transvestite snap queen who banishes all hurtful encounters with assertive, in-their-face applications of the dismissive gesture. This is an easy candidate for the most effective insight in the play.  

Rail rage:Dutchman is no summer of love 

DUTCHMAN, By Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones). Directed by Brett Milanowski. Set and lighting design by Joanne Savage. Costumes by Heather Ritchie. Sound by Ben Arons and Brendan Hughes. Music by Nathan Pyritz. Fight choreography by Robert Isaacson. With Keith Mascoll, Caroline Lawton, Cliff Odle, Nathan Pyritz, Julie Fulton, David C. Galusi, and James Scott. 

Set on a New York subway car in the middle of summer, Dutchman opens with the kind of "opposites attract" situation that grounds so many safe romantic comedies: a clean-cut, articulate young black man named Clay flirts with a slightly older, seemingly impulsive and free-spirited white woman. The woman, named Lula, is in control here, and she claims that she already knows everything about Clay ("You're a well-known type," she says dismissively). The talk turns frankly sexual, and Lula titillates Clay with promises of a night of passion. She makes increasingly crude references to his race, and as the train fills up with white passengers, he seems increasingly vulnerable. Clay first tries to fight words with words, and much of Dutchman would fit right into a 1990s poetry slam. ("You don't know anything except what's there for you to see. An act. Lies. Device. Not the pure heart, the pumping black heart.") But playwright Baraka reveals his impatience with language, especially as used by artists to channel their energies away from physical action. "If Bessie Smith had killed some white people," Clay spits out, "she wouldn't have needed that music." 

This Dutchman is on stronger ground when Clay begins to dominate the action. Keith Mascoll, believable as the easygoing Clay of the first scene, is mesmerizing as he takes center stage and tears into the climactic speech that begins with the simple command "Shut up and let me talk." When Dutchman reached its abrupt conclusion (the play is barely an hour long) last Saturday, the spectators gave the cast a protracted and enthusiastic ovation, then took an extraordinarily long time to leave their seats.  I suspect that the reaction would have been different in 1964 -- more shocked silence, less exhilaration at Clay's defiant words -- but the Theatre Cooperative has shown that Baraka's work still has some potency a quarter-century later.

 Uncomfortable Secrets Are Revealed in Crosby Tatum’s Dramedy ‘Confused…by Love’(Shadow and Act)

“Confused…by Love

Writer/director Crosby Tatum’s feature film “Confused…by Love,” which is currently traveling the film festival circuit.

A synopsis for the film reads: “Married for only a single year, Ferguson and Tiffany Marie Middlebecker’s marriage, is suddenly on the rocks when they both find themselves broke, and about to lose their lovely home to sudden foreclosure. Hope however comes in the form of Reggie Maxwell, Ferguson’s former best friend, and Jo-Jo, Ferguson ex-girlfriend, who both pop out of nowhere, to help Ferguson and Tiffany out, if they can both stay at their home for 5 days straight. Hidden skeletons and uncomfortable secrets soon begin to reveal themselves to these four individuals as they do all that they can to not only save a home, but their respective relationships as well, before it’s too late.”

Keith Mascoll, Jamie M. Perez, Simba Dibinga, and Jordan Lloyd star.

The film was produced on a minimal budget, and shot for six straight days in the Dorchester/Roxbury area of Boston, MA.

“To me, ‘Confused…by Love’ represents a point in our lives when we love our significant other, and when times get rough, we don’t necessarily know how to handle the situation as it compounds our normalcy and often allows us to question if the situation we are in, is ‘right,’ or if it is ‘wrong,'” director Tatum explains.

The film premiered at the 2015 Urban Mediamakers Film Festival in Atlanta, GA, where it won the festival’s Audience Award. It’s most recent screened at the International Pan African Film Festival that takes place in Cannes, France.

Finding Brilliance in a Beauty Parlor

Katori Hall’s newest play, set in a Memphis beauty parlor at the end of World War II, further highlights her as a talent to watch.(Wall Street Journal)

Jasmine Rush, Meagan Dilworth, Keith Mascoll and Cloteal L. Horne. Jasmine Rush, Meagan Dilworth, Keith Mascoll and Cloteal L. Horne. Photo: Glenn Perry