‘Hoops’ Circles Around Jewelry Black Women Wear

Chamber Theatre presents new play, new voices targeting racism about simple hoops.

By - Mar 15th, 2023 07:29 pm
Paulina Lule, Ashley Oviedo, and Celia Mandela Rivera. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Paulina Lule, Ashley Oviedo, and Celia Mandela Rivera. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

The world premiere of Hoops – it’s not about the Bucks but about the importance and impact of hoop earrings and accessories in elevating Black, brown and indigenous cultures – is a timely reminder that not all theater has to carry the name of an important playwright like Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams or August Wilson to be worthwhile. In fact, theater often stems from a collaborative process involving many talents, making it hard to pick the most dominant voice.

It was multimedia artist Nicole Acosta, now acting marketing director for the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, whose portrait gallery of women wearing hoop earrings, accompanied by poetry and story, inspired the play running through April 2. A mural based on her work is the backdrop of the production.

Her project attracted playwright Eliana Pipes. She is too enamored of emphasizing how dark skinned women with hoops on their ears – simple circles, elaborate beads, plastic and whatnot – have been put in their place again and again by feminist haters, big business and white supremacists, though the noble fashion history of hoops dates back to Africa and the Dakota tribes not to mention disco and current male and female bling. The playwright does a nice job of revealing that, but her monologues become repetitive though done with high energy and some engaging anecdotes.

The play also relies on director Maria Patrice Amon, whose roots appear to be in California. She seems responsible for some of the bright touches that will be credited by the audience to her trio of actresses – the way they twist a scarf into a hairpiece to invigorate a story about cancer chemo, the simple use of a nightgown to help a character age into a mother, the fight over a slide projector – and the generous sense of flow from one story to another.

Meanwhile Tisiphani Mayfield gets a lot of mileage out of choreographing basic hip-hop stomps while Milwaukee composer B-Free (also known as Britney Freeman-Farr) provides catchy beats and rap phrasing to drive the performers themselves.

And while those performers have little real acting to do aside from oral interpretation direct to the audience, they do it invitingly and also move gracefully in tempo.

Ashley Oviedo can really sing. Paulina Lule has the best monologue as a transgender. Celia Mandela Rivera has to put on the most character trappings. All work well together.

There is too much repetition and too few laughs except for those inspired by forced camaraderie. The play is overladen with how badly minority women have been treated, how blondes have escaped for decades with big hair and earrings, but not those with brown and black coloring in the business world. And while there is truth in the outrage there is such a thing as too much complaining.

But both the project and the production have originality that does credit to Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s commitment to new voices.

Hoops Gallery

Dominique Paul Noth served for decades as film and drama critic, later senior editor for features at the Milwaukee Journal. You’ll find his blogs here and here.

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