Was It Me by Andrea Fulton
Theatre for the New City is Live Again
By: Rachel de Aragon - Sep 22, 2021
Theater for the New City, Executive Director Crystal Field presents Andrea Fulton's Was it Me? Directed by Kymbali Craig, the play gives us a poignant peak into everyday life. Fulton probes the anguish of a woman burdened by an unresolved memory of a traumatizing assault in her childhood. Fulton brings the question of self blame to the fore as the woman asks: “Was it something about me that made this happen?"
The set, designed by Lytza R. Colon, provides a simple interior of a row house, somewhere in the USA. It is the home of a successful working class African-American family. We are in the basement, 'round the pool table. The time is 1969 and James Brown is blasting on the radio.
Two teenage boys [young] Gabe (Mathew C. Harling) and his close friend, [young] Eddie, (Riyadh Rollins) prepare for a party at the house. Kathy Roberson and Kennisha Aliza Williams give us nice period piece costume and hairstyle touches: an over-sized newsboy hat, big Afro hair and tight bell-bottom pants.
The boys are making phone calls encouraging other friends to join the fun, joking playfully and shooting pool, as Rollins 'struts his stuff' with a James Brown dance imitation. Gabe's little sister [young] Margo (Lianne Awah) builds a science project much admired by Eddie. Talking about nothing, bragging about female admirers, and sipping whiskey from the liquor cabinet the boys are full of themselves and the joyful exuberance of adolescence. Effective use is made of the sound track ( Ken Coughlin) in giving a sense of time and place.
This is not a coming of age story. Rather it tells us of the destructive role unresolved trauma can play in our lives. The realities of the imprisonment of Eddie's father and later the sudden death of Gabe and Margo's father, leave our friends stepping into adulthood without guidance. The absence of their fathers weighs heavily on both young men, putting each of them in the 'man of the house' role before they are ready to assume it.
The play flashes forward in time and we meet Margo (Kymbali Craig) trying to pick off the threads of her life visiting a psychiatrist Dr. Chang (Lai Yee Fung). Margo's struggle to find resolution intensifies when a visit to her brother Gabe (Arnold C. Baker II) brings her face to face with her past. Eddie (Antwain N. Lewis) remembers her as a bright and charming young girl, but she can barely recall him. Something is not quite what it seems. Margo is confused by her own disjointed memories, and a feeling that she did something wrong. Was it me? Margo may need help to find the answers.
Does needing help imply weakness? Are we to blame for the trauma that has impacted our lives? Can we turn to spiritual and professional supports to bolster our ability to build a better future, however grim the past may be?
Despite the trauma and tragic themes in the play, Fulton manages to be both thoughtful and optimistic. Fulton and Craig explore these issues within the context of the African-American experience which traditionally has shied away from reaching for professional help.
Cautious about being labeled as “crazy” for seeking assistance, they shoulder pain and ignore trauma. This is the strong, righteous and 'right thing to do'. Many underrepresented social groups have needs which have not been well served by mental health professionals. Unfortunately this coping style can lead to violence as unfiltered pieces of pain shower down upon us.
Rather than blame the victim or find a scapegoat, Fulton asks that we seek to understand trauma and help each other heal.
The show also provides us post-show talks with licensed and knowledgeable professionals in clinical psychology and theology who can ask and answer questions raised in the play. John David West is the moderator.
The play is running Thursdays to Saturdays thru October 3, 2021.