Women’s Month Play at Wesleyan Gets High Marks
A Women’s Month Play at Wesleyan Gets High Marks as March marked women’s month around the country and the 31 day celebration of female strength and accomplishments manifested itself at Wesleyan College in the form of the theatrical production, Ain’t I A Woman. Adapted for the stage by Akin Babatunde and directed by Mark Lynch, the Core Ensemble produced three part chamber music theatre work delves into the lives of writer Zora Neale Hurston; visual artist Clementine Hunter; civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer and abolitionist Sojourner Truth – four historic Black female figures that revolutionized the struggle towards artistic and human freedom.
On this night the play would be carried by Ensemble members, actress Christy Hall and pianist Bryon Sean. Hall has appeared Off-Broadway in “Marie Christine” and performs regularly at various New York City comedy clubs. Sean has performed across North America and Europe since beginning piano studies at age 10 in Ohio and even has a live broadcast of Beethoven’s “Choral Fantasy “on National Public Radio to his credit.
The production opens at a party for Hurston in 1934 New York where she elaborates on her accomplishments in spite of various challenges presented to her throughout her life. Hall portrays all four women and proves worthy of the task switching effortlessly between characters. In the second phase of the play Hall brings to life the eccentric and comedic Hunter to the sounds of Sean’s skillful and powerful interpretation of John Coltrane’s “Naima” and Charles Mingus’ “Devil Woman” among many other jazz, blues and gospel classics. Hunter proved to be an audience favorite speaking directly to one member, affording Hall the opportunity to improvise as times and truly have fun with this particular character. Her unsuspecting target was 10 year old Amori Coney of Macon. The charming Danforth Elementary School student admitted to loving the chance to speak directly back to Hall’s Clementine Hunter and in turn making for a memorable experience for the lively youngster and her grandmother, Tina Dennard – a recipient of Wesleyan’s prestigious Servant Leadership Award earlier in the evening. Coney said that she would honor the ways of the women she witnessed on this night by striving to be like them, to ensure that the struggles they endured won’t be repeated. “I would like to show people so that we don’t have to do something like that today,” she expressed.
Part three of the play is where we see the acting capacity of Hall magnified. In it she is seen as Hamer at her (Hamer) home near Indianola, Mississippi in 1962 and 1964 as well as a hospital room near Atlanta in 1963 in between squeezing in a powerful soliloquy by Truth delivered in 1851. Leading up to the hospital scene Hamer is arrested for attempts to infiltrate segregated voting establishments and subjected to torturous abuses at the hands of police while jailed. During this sequence the audience is made clear why Hamer had to receive medical care and what led to her more militant stance on civil rights issues later. Sean’s interpretations of “Motherless Child” underneath Hall’s Sojourner Truth’s thought provoking verbal essay was the perfect blend and set a definitive tone for the closing song “Freedom Land” to the joyous and triumphant strut of Hamer following her steering and searing final stage appearance. Selena Young of Macon attended the event and mirrored Hall’s pleasantly pleased version of Hamer following the play and topped of the night with some interesting words of her own. “In today’s time our young people especially need this play,” she said. “They really need it because if they know more about where we as a people have been, they will know more about where they should be heading.”