Theater Review: Dance Of The Holy Ghosts at Oakland Peace Center, Ubuntu Theater Project, 3/23/18

by Sahar Yousefi on March 25, 2018

Edited by Jessica Vaden

Dance of the Holy Ghosts returns to playwright’s native Oakland roots

Berwick Haynes (Oscar) with Viola’s famous sweet potato pie and Michael Curry (Marcus) with his precisely organized Crayolas™?. Photo courtesy of Simone Finney, 2018.

They say the brain only recalls the parts it wants to remember. And so it goes, memory is fragmented, and unreliable, as we come to learn in Ubuntu Theater Project’s production of Dance of the Holy Ghosts by Marcus Gardley.

Gardley is an Oakland native, and there’s something about seeing a play in the space that it’s intended for that really draws on the fragility that a memory play evokes. Walking through the doors of Oakland Peace Center, one immediately confronts a specific time and place which then colors the viewer’s experience. Bringing it all together, a complete choir of gospel singers open the show in this untraditional but very fitting setting.

We can feel right away an immense loss; trauma lurks in the background of every move. A lone young man, Marcus (Michael Curry), stands in the center, and if we aren’t sure by now of the immeasurable weight he carries, it all comes to clarity when we hear the booming voice of his Grandfather Oscar, played by the immensely talented Berwick Haynes. This skillful direction is done by Michael Socrates Moran, whose work grounds what could otherwise become an unharnessed mess under a less experienced director.

And so begins a hilariously comical and touching tête-à-tête between grandfather and grandson. As Oscar descends into his memories, Marcus rises. As Oscar seeks redemption, Marcus comes of age, and learns about forgiveness: a thought provoking commentary on coming to terms with one’s roots.

The most refreshing part of this play is how vividly the sounds and movements paint a portrait of Marcus’s ancestors without fixating on those roots. So seldom do we get a three-dimensional portrait of a person of color without the focal point being a stereotypical representation of oppression. With Holy Ghosts, we live inside this trauma, without it ever overshadowing our character’s need for cathartic freedom. It’s reminiscent of the great memory plays of Tennessee Williams, in that they truly encompass the hopes and dreams of what it means to be human. The struggle to hide a part of one’s self in the face of society’s constructs is an overarching theme, especially in terms of masculinity, which the play touches on subtly in a quick as lightning scene.

And finally, the true star of the show is the music. We go from gospel to blues to hip hop to everything in between, and in the end, aided by Latanya Tigner’s beautiful choreography, we are truly left completely haunted by the way it all pieces together.

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Dance of the Holy Ghosts runs now through March 31st. Ubuntu Theater Project offers pay-what-you-can pricing subscriptions, making theater truly accessible for everyone in the community. For more information, visit www.ubuntutheaterproject.com

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