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Ancestors' Voices Call Out in 'A Black Trilogy'

March 08, 2001|PHILIP BRANDES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The scars of American slavery are examined with visceral impact through a diverse spectrum of voices and moods in the 2001 installment of "A Black Trilogy" at the Complex Theatre.

Skillfully staged by Spencer Scott for Unity Players Ensemble, three historically themed playlets triumph over limited production resources.

"Call Out My Name," adapted by Scott from the autobiography of William Wells Brown, cleverly engages the free black physician and writer (Christopher S. Carrington) in a dialogue with his younger slave self (Raymond Parker).

The contrast between the gregarious, unschooled youth and the more guarded, ornately spoken philosopher he became offers wry commentary on human potential--and the trade-offs made to realize it.

P.J. Gibson's "The Taking Circle" depicts an eerie racial memory dream. An antique birthing chair puts a present-day collector (Jenna Z. Wilson, alternating with Jeri Snead) in touch with a chilling ritual in which slave women protect their newborn girls. Regina Crisp plays an anguished mother who joins her midwives in conjuring up the spirit of Mahdia (Trina Price, Shannon Shepherd).

"He Who Endures" by Bill Harris, traces the evolving politics of Frederick Douglass (Ben Tyler) through encounters with some of his illustrious contemporaries: the Rev. Henry Highland Garnet (Joe Thornton Jr.), John Brown (Stephan Early) and slave-turned-rebel Shields Green (Derius Kevins).

Their sometimes long-winded but focused debates place Douglass in the dilemma facing all advocates of social change: defining the moral boundaries of activism. Harris honors the complexity of the issues and risks showing moments of weakness and indecision that could chip away at Douglass' icon status--but also deepen his humanity.

Coreie Mosley's stand-up comic commentary provides plenty of 'tude during scene changes.

* "A Black Trilogy 2001," Complex, Ruby Theatre, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends March 25. $15. (323) 860-3208. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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