The omnipresent mask-wearing and social-distancing ritual, which is very much a part of contemporary life during these perilous times, was in force, but all in all, the setting, ambiance and the play itself made for a memorable evening of live entertainment on Friday at Fonseca Theatre Company. It was opening night of Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm‘s engaging “Hooded, Or Being Black for Dummies,” held in the rear parking lot of FTC’s Basile Building on Michigan Street on Indy’s near Westside.
Directed again by Ben Rose, the production is a reprise of the play that was part of the theatre’s inaugural season in 2018. Repeating their roles were Chinyelu Mwaafrika (Marquis) and Joshua Short (Tru). Other members of the cast are Joseph Mervis (Hunter), Maverick Schmidt (Fielder/Dionysus/Concerned Citizen), Megan Ann Jacobs (Deb/Prairie), Vicki Turner (Meadow), Keegan Jones (Officer Borzo/Apollo), and Sarah Ault (Clementine).
As it did during “Hype Man: a break beat play,” the first of its summer series last month, FTC went to great efforts to ensure the entire experience prevents the spread of COVID-19. Focused on the outdoor stage, which featured a minimal set graced by large paintings depicting locations in the play, the nearly 50 people present, seated underneath strings of lights, enjoyed ideal weather. The urban setting, replete with the sights and sounds of the Haughville Neighborhood, very much fit at least part of the story that takes place in Achievement Heights, a fictional suburb of Baltimore and the city itself.
According to an email sent to me in advance of the run, in light of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Dreajson Reed in Indy, and the subsequent Black Lives Matters protests, it was a no-brainer to revisit “Hooded.” The play tackles the experience of growing up Black in America, one wrought with racism, police brutality, inequity, discrimination and poverty. Chisholm’s sharply comedic, yet, at times, searing drama couldn’t be more germane to today’s headlines.
The play, which clocks in at one hour and 40 minutes, with a ten-minute intermission, centers on Marquis and Tru, two Black teenagers, who meet in the holding cell of a police station. Marquis, adopted by a white couple, lives in the affluent suburb of Achievement Heights, attends a private school and loves the philosopher Nietzsche. Highly intelligent Tru is street smart, witty, deeply perceptive and a devotee of social activist Tupac Shakur, one of the most influential rappers of all time. Tru concludes that Marquis is devoid of Blackness, so he gifts him with a manual he has written titled “Being Black for Dummies.” Together, the pair journey through Marquis’s world of privilege and Tru’s world in the inner city as they discover they have more in common than they originally thought, eventually transforming from adversaries to friends.
Standing out for an impressive performance was Butler theatre major Chinyelu Mwaafirka as naive, sheltered Marquis, who comes to terms with his identity as someone who has a foot in two different worlds. It is always a joy to encounter new talent, especially one as gifted as Chisholm, who was thoroughly convincing as the play’s thoughtful and sincere protagonist.
Equally outstanding was Gritty N Craft Show co-founder Joshua Short as smart and clever Tru, who leads his unlikely friend Marquis on a journey of self-discovery. Possessing impeccable timing, Short reminded me of comedian Kevin Hart as he delivered Chisholm’s hilarious one-liners that kept the audience in stitches throughout the show.
I would remiss if I did not point out just how believeable the chemistry and camaraderie was between the Mwaafrika and Short in their portayal of the odd couple characters they depict and their relationship. Considering the fact that they were repeating their roles, they certainly had plenty of practice.
Also commanding attention was New York University student Joseph Mervis as Marquis’s friend Hunter, who discovers the “Being Black for Dummies” book and proceeds to school himself on its pointers. Ultimately, he illustrates the disparity that exists when a Black person is accused of acting white, he/she is vilified, but when whites try to act black, they are regarded as hip or cool.
In these times when this country, if not the entire world, is examining and seeking to end systemic racism, it is critical that the momentum created during the protests continues and results in real change. For that to occur, it is imperative that ongoing conversations about racism between people of color and whites need to continue. Adhering to its mission of being a voice for members of the BIPOC community, Fonseca Theatre, through its compelling production of “Hooded,” continues to be in the vanguard of purposeful theatre.
“Hooded, Or Being Black for Dummies” continues through August 30. For tickets and information, visit fonsecatheatre.org.