A mere scan of the title of the three-part weekend program which played at Highways through Sunday--"Colored Girls in the Morning: I Negress"--shows that this is one evening thriving on complications.
Black and African-American are, importantly, two words missing here, though it's in the middle of Highways' "Black December" month of African-American performance. The program of two solo pieces, Brandyn Barbara Artis' "Sister Girl" and "Black December" co-curator (with Keith Antar Mason) Joyce Guy's "Game 1: The Arrival," plus Robbie Mescudi's staged reading of her play-in-progress, "The Convergence of Selma," often suggests a mythic world, both in a past before Rosa Parks, and in a violent future.
The least mythic here is "Sister Girl," which has Artis frankly delivering her theatricalized diary fragments kept during her battle with breast cancer. She recounts her crossing this Rubicon of fear with such low-key likability that it's disarming; but when Artis has to put across moments of emotional catharsis, she's still low-key, as if she hasn't been able to get out of gear. Artis obviously wants this to be more than a pep talk on "Beating Cancer Without Chemotherapy," but, for now, "Sister Girl" is often no more than that.
Guy, on the other hand, immediately fills the space with vital humor and startling images: Against a projected slide portentously showing a chessboard (black and white squares, black chess pieces), she stands pregnant, then disrobes. With simple (sometimes too protracted) changes of clothing, Guy assumes seven personae of real variety and intelligence. She tracks women from slavery to the new corporate prison, but little of it has the obvious exposition of a history lesson.
Instead, "Game 1" is played with minimalist relish. In a single bracing minute, for instance, Guy's corporate woman goes from mindless laughter to painful tears to cold containment. The chill of this portrait alone hangs in the air long after the bland message-making of the last scene; Guy is a much better artist than she is a polemicist.
Writer-director Mescudi's "The Convergence of Selma" isn't quite art or polemic. It's more like an Afro-American response to Margaret Atwood's paranoid feminist fictions, with Mescudi tripping out on the sound of her own multisyllabic workouts. Never mind that this was a staged reading; Mescudi's play would remain a static work about Selma (RaSheryl McCreary), a dead radical poet revived in a future when her verse has inspired "39,000 negresses" to become killers.
If Mescudi wants us to view conflicts between black women through the prism of a bloody high-tech future, she'll need to find a way so the conflicts aren't ground down, along with her actresses, by the numbing verbiage. At its worst, "Convergence" is like a clumsy imitation of Jean Genet's theater of purgatory; at its most interesting, it indicates that a writer's responsibility is more than she can ever imagine.