"The Trial" at The M Ensemble

I walked in to my first day of rehearsal excited, bubbly and ready to get to work. I almost missed the small entrance to the theater nestled in a quaint shopping plaza right outside Little Haiti (just about). I understood upfront how a black theater company would struggle in South Florida, but I didn’t expect it to be run by two of the sweetest black women you’ll ever meet. I don’t know why I didn’t expect it, but I didn’t. Shirley Richardson and Pat Williams together create what I like to call The Little Engine That Could. These two ladies do everything to keep South Florida’s oldest black-owned theater company, The M Ensemble in business. From the securing grants, to negotiating contracts to cleaning bathrooms and sewing costumes, these women do it all. And they do it all because they love it. Sounds cliché, but they don’t have the luxury of winning Carbonells, having critic buddies who will write them favorable reviews, or just getting the acclaim and respect they deserve in the South Florida theater scene. But they do it anyway.

If you’ve read any of my posts, you already know I’m a huge believer in the power of old-fashioned hard work. Good thing, because that’s exactly what the doctor called for here. When I first read the script and met the cast I had nothing but hope and optimism for the production. But to be honest, it wasn’t at all a “crystal stair” this go-around. My character has some very sexual tones, and it’s hard to display that onstage when you’re still navigating around that idea in reality. I also wanted to make sure I was treating her as a human and not displaying her as her stereotype suggests -- because then the entire idea behind the play would be null and void.Furthermore, this is the most emotional role I’ve ever played – hands down. So I had a lot of anxiety about how I to accomplish that in a truthful manner that fit i with the context of the play.

To compound the situation, the director and I didn’t always have the best communication tactics. Many a rehearsal was spent speaking in tongues. He wasn’t hearing me, I wasn’t hearing him and it was just…tough. Some days after rehearsal I would just come home and curl up in the fetal position, put on Coldplay and sulk until I fell asleep (don’t tell nobody). Seriously though, it was draining.

But it was worth every frustrating second.

When the show opened and we were allowed to run with what we’ve rehearsed, all the cast relaxed into their roles in the most interesting way. I think I fall more in love with the production each show. Then I understood why Shirley and Pat work so hard. Despite having to be reviewed from the perspective of people who don’t fully understand the African-American culture, being basically ignored at the biggest theater awards ceremony in SoFla, and having their productions overlooked – they are winners. The wallpaper in their lobby is photo after photo of people who love and support The M. Smiling faces in pictures, a steady, dedicated audience, and talented actors. This is a diamond in the rough.

This post is coming late as we are in week two of the run, but I have been so caught up in it all I couldn’t even think about writing.  The play is a satire about a trial of one confused woman, Victoria Dryer, who is suing two stereotypes, Safreeta Mae (the vixen – this is my role) and Mammy Louise (the good-ole mammy we all know and love). The show is a roller coaster ride infused with lost African history, humor, and some truly touching moments as well.

You just have to see it.

"...the play's final moments achieve an effect so powerful that history and enlightenment become one and the same."

-Christine Dolen, Miami Herald

The M Ensemble Company presents:

The Trial of One Short-Sighted Black Woman VS. Mammy Louise & Safreeta Mae

Written by: Karani Marcia Leslie

Directed by: Lowell Williams

Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm

April 8th – May 2nd, 2010

12320 West Dixie Highway

North Miami, Florida 33161