Beauty’s Daughter for Uprooted Theatre
Review: Beauty’s Daughter by Dael Orlandersmith
Produced by Uprooted MKE
Director: Dennis F. Johnson
Featuring: Marti L. Gobel
Runs: 75 minutes, with no intermission
It was an auspicious start for the new African-American theatre company in Milwaukee. Two of the founding members – in this case a UWM Theater Program student and the first show’s director, and a recent theater grad and busy actor based in Fort Atkinson – wisely chose Orlandersmith’s 1995 Obie-award winner about a New York poetess coming to terms with the lives of her tenement neighbors and a sense of sanity in the world. It was a perfect fit for Marti L. Gobel’s natural ability and poise.
It also was a move made necessary by yet another new company of players who’ve decided “the stage at all costs” even during a recession period. Other members are off working summer stock and other projects, yet the space at Broadway Center Theater’s Studio became available during the summer off-season. Needing little staging other than a chair, table, and some wardrobe props, the acting in Daughter is more about rhythm and persona than plot.
It was an interesting but perhaps shrewd maneuver to put the inaugural show up at a space in the Third Ward instead of a community space on the north or west side of Milwaukee. As Uprooted’s mission statement relates: “the purpose of our work is to serve as a uniting force for the Milwaukee area in its entirety, regardless of racial or financial background. UPROOTED educates, enriches, and entertains audiences and students while maintaining the highest standards of integrity and professionalism.”
If the staging had been in one of Milwaukee’s black neighborhoods, it might have found a more direct set of ears to the experience of the main character Diane (Gobel also portrays the five acquaintences who want something from her). But it might be less likely that the standard set of theater goers seen at many opening nights would travel over there. It would be a loss for those people, as they would not have seen this fluid performance. As it was, the audience was diverse and it was amusing to hear enthusiastic “mmmm-hmm, that’s right” after particularly empowering moments as Diane addresses the audience.
Cribbing from the audible poetry styles of Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes, Beauty’s Daughter typifies a particular experience but also delves deeper into the processing of emotions by other denizens. Each character is dealing with a hardship that either involved using Diane as a muse or crutch. After portrtaying a gregarious Puerto Rican, Gobel floats dreamily up stage while her recorded voice flows through Diane’s poems. She re-emerges as an old blind junkie. Gobel changes outfits like she is changing souls.
Beauty’s Daughter ran for two nights at the Broadway Center Theatre and another two at Café Carpe in Fort Atkinson. Being a new company without a home or corporate funding, there is no set 2009-10 season yet. But Johnson stated before the show (to some encouraging murmurs) that future planned shows include The Colored Museum and a staged reading of Streetcar Named Desire. You can find out more about Uprooted at their website and connect with them at their facebook page.