It is a wonderful world for ‘Peter Damn Williams’
By Ted Hadley
News Contributing Reviewer
“My name is Peter Damn Williams and I am so fierce.”
Fierce, as in intense. He’s also very funny, a little freaky and, from his perspective, fabulous. The self-promotional adage, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it,” is his credo.
Alemaedae Theater and playwright/artistic director Phil Davis, borrowing space from Road Less Traveled Productions and its Market Arcade stage, has decided to introduce Peter Damn Williams to the world and, well, why not?
The silly, harmless but obnoxious on occasion model, actor and media personality – with his “flawless looks, quick wit and signature walk” – is a welcome distraction from harrowing daily news.
And so we travel with Peter – faultlessly and grandly played by another Williams, Barry – through scenes depicting “The Wonderful World of Peter Williams,” witnesses to his birth and his father’s abandonment, the boy’s devotion to his mother, usual sibling rivalry and an interest in things frilly and chic.
Deadbeat Dad wasn’t there to take the effeminate lad to a ball game, but an early influence was his maternal grandfather, a cool dude named Grandpa Damn – “Grandpa D-word,” to Peter – a guy with Nathan Detroit suits and always in the company of painted ladies of the evening.
“I don’t know what Grandpa D-word does for a living,” Peter Damn often pondered. The old man, worried about Peter’s walk, fashion design talk and fascination with color coordination, nevertheless taught the boy how to enter a room and make it his own and equally important, how to exit with panache.
The boy grew up confident, comfortable in his own skin - even while the one-parent family struggled and he confronted bullies and scoffers of his perceived sexual orientation – and, as an outrageously eccentric adult, came to know international fame and fortune.
As “Peter Williams” winds down though, happiness seems elusive and traits that he hated in others - bullying, condescension, bias - start to take root in him.
Playwright Davis, who continues to create memorable and complex characters, says that Peter “walks the line between victim and villain on several occasions” in this play.
Davis and Alemaedae surface periodically with these stage works and acclaimed past productions have included “Zooman & The Sign” and “F.B.E. (Family Before Everything),” stories of black families, ‘hoods and mean streets, drugs and violence coupled with triumph and tenderness.
The company (pronounced Ah-lem-ah-day) also loves sketch comedy and spoof. There are hilarious moments galore in “Peter Williams.”
Davis and Peter Johnson co-direct – the latter also appears – with production assistance from Xavier Films and hosts Road Less Traveled. It’s a true team effort.
Many new faces and a few Ujima and Robeson faces dot the cast: Monique Webb, Taura Stephens, LaRon Bradley, Andre Colon, Shantel Webb, Greg Chaffee, Jennifer Holmes, Roger Killian, Erin Moss, Leon Copeland – unforgettable as Grandpa Damn – and newcomer Sierra Johnson, perfect and promising in several roles.
And Barry Williams? There is no doubt. As Peter Damn, he is fabulous.
3 out of 4 stars
‘F.B.E.’ a story of shattered dreams
By Ted Hadley
NEWS CONTRIBUTING REVIEWER
Published:August 14, 2011, 12:00 AM
Updated: August 14, 2011, 10:12 AM
Phil Davis and his Alemaedae Theater have returned with another hard-hitting tale of life on urban mean streets: “F.B.E.,” subtitled “Family Before Everything.” This is the latest play—on stage through tonight at Buffalo East — from Davis and his frequent collaborator, Taura “Chyna” Stephens, coming on the heels of their acclaimed “Zooman & The Sign” at Ujima last spring.
“F. B. E.” is a story of family secrets, dark doings that members barely whisper and festering deeds of long ago that surface violently during a time that should have marked new beginnings. The esteemed Willie Judson directs this story of shattered dreams.
Gloria is a widow living with her two teenagers, headstrong Sade, a college scholarship winner about to leave for greener pastures; and nice-kid Julian, trying to support his family but suddenly in over his head peddling pot to make a few bucks. This is “Cold Springs” in the “Queen City,” close to home it seems. That makes “F. B. E.” tougher to watch. It’s also the ’hood, where drug-dealer Bolo is king, a turf-smart dude with a short fuse but a soft spot for Julian. Bolo constantly repeats a mantra: “Family before everything,” he preaches to Julian: “F. B. E.” Bolo is not to be messed with.
Trouble begins when Julian is asked to recruit straight-arrow Ricky, a lifelong pal, to sell some “stuff.” When the menacing B. J. — director Judson doing double-duty—ups the ante to cocaine in Julian’s pocket, Gloria’s long-suppressed rage begins to boil.
“F. B. E.” ends badly for just about everybody as family ties — the “secret” part of all this — become unglued, gunshots ring and the familiar “wrong place at the wrong time” scenario unfolds. In the chaos, Julian mumbles “I’m sorry” to Gloria. It’s hardly enough.
Playwrights Davis and Stephens and director/ actor Judson have gathered a stellar cast—many of them Robeson and Ujima veterans, but they are mixed with some impressive newcomers.
Monique Webb’s Gloria is always close to losing it, years of struggle and worry primed for collapse. Excellent. Bill King Jr. is superb as a complex and consistently scary Bolo and there is fine work by India Moss, Shantel Webb, Shabar Rouse, Sherri Singletary and Mario Ross, as Julian.
The writing is crisp, the characters memorable and the action all too real in this “F. B. E.” Let’s hope that authors Davis and Stephens get back to work soon.
“F. B. E.”
3 out of 4 stars
Drama presented by Alemaedae Theater Productions in Buffalo East, 1410 Main St. Final show is 6p.m. today. For tickets, call 602-6253 or visit www.atpgalaxy.com.
'Zooman and the Sign': Sobering lesson hits home
A timely lesson about violence in urban neighborhoods
By COLIN DABKOWSKI
News Arts Critic
Published:March 11, 2011, 12:00 AM
Updated: March 11, 2011, 8:46 AM
Every time the lights come up on Zooman, a menacing teenager dressed in baggy jeans, a tight tank-top and a sleeveless gray hoodie, the temperature in Theater-Loft seems to drop about 20 degrees.
“I woke up this morning and I felt like killing someone,” he says, a momentary glint of something pure and unhinged in his eyes. “So what?”
“So what?” — that eternal expression of indifference — is the question at the heart of “Zooman and the Sign,” a powerful 1980 play by Charles Fuller that opened Saturday night in Theatre-Loft in a co-production of Alemaedae Theatre Productions, Ujima Theatre and Xavier Films.
The play takes a hard look at violence in urban black communities through the experience of Rachel and Reuben Tate (Shanntina Moore and Barry Williams Jr.), whose 12-year-old daughter Jinny was killed by a stray bullet from Zooman’s gun — a bullet he intended for someone else. In an effort to solve the crime, Reuben posts a controversial sign asking tight-lipped neighbors on his block in a rough section of Philadelphia to come forward to help identify the killers.
Fuller’s play, in addition to serving as a compelling portrait of one family’s grief, attempts to explore why, when violence occurs in poor black neighborhoods, so many people retreat from their porches, close their doors and shut their mouths.
The play, which says some potentially controversial things about the way black communities have evolved (or not) since Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society, has a chilling and immediate local relevance.
It is being produced in part to raise awareness about the death of 15-year-old Dominique Maye, who was killed last September by a stray bullet as she sat in her aunt’s front room doing homework. Kevin J. Davis, a 24-year-old gang member who was recently charged with her slaying, reportedly intended to kill someone else. Dominique, like Jinny, was collateral damage in the botched vendetta of a cold-blooded killer.
This production, directed by Willie Judson, is powered mostly by the simmering intensity of Peter Johnson, who plays Zooman with a spine-chilling mix of menace and manufactured confidence, so clearly born of insecurity. It is as much because of Johnson’s performance as Fuller’s dialogue that we see Zooman both as a conduit for certain ugly truths about urban violence and as a cold-hearted product of that violence himself.
As Reuben and Rachel, Williams and Moore make a compelling team, while Beverly Y. Crowell gives an impeccable comic performance as Ash, a cousin. Throughout the show, however, there is a misguided tendency in some roles to equate shouting with acting. Johnson demonstrates that dynamic control can be more effective than the loudest scream, and that’s something the rest of the cast could take heed of.
Fuller’s play also raises a good many issues — where, for instance, does the neighborhood residents’ hesitance to speak come from, aside from a historic unease with the police? — without really exploring them in much depth. It provides grist for the mill but doesn’t do much milling, which places the play firmly in the crowded second tier of socially conscious dramas.
That the play ends in a way that is hardly representative of reality in most crime-ridden urban neighborhoods might be considered a fault. But you could view it as a sad sort of justice — something communities from Fuller’s Philadelphia to Buffalo’s East Side could use.•
WHO: “Zooman and the Sign”
WHEN: Through March 27
WHERE: TheaterLoft, 545 Elmwood Av.
TICKETS: $15 to $20
INFO: 602-6253 or www.ujimatheatre.org
A step above
Alemaedae Theater gains more attention with ‘Let’s Get It In’
Updated: January 7, 2011, 9:38 AM
For the past three years, Phil Davis and his brother, James Clemons, have been mounting a popular competition called “Stomp the Yard.”
The event, in which step-dancing teams from the local African-American and Latino communities face off against one another in good-natured but fiercely fought battles, has been steadily picking up participants and audience members since its inception in 2008.
Now, in an effort to combine the appeal of stepping with a passion for theater, Davis and his Alemaedae Theater company are mounting an original play that takes audiences behind the scenes of the step world.
“Let’s Get It In” — a name that can’t help but evoke “Bring It On,” a 2000 film about competitive cheerleading — will play for one performance on Sunday in the Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts (450 Masten Ave.). The show explores the backstage drama of competitive stepping and focuses on a rivalry between two female dancers from vastly different social backgrounds.
Taj (played by Cierra Monroe) comes from an affluent family and is relatively spoiled, while Shay (Teyana Walker) has had a more difficult upbringing. When Taj wins a step competition in a questionable way, Shay, spurred on by jealousy, tries to sabotage Taj’s life both on and off the stage.
“It’s almost like a collage of everything,” Davis said of the show, the latest of several he has written for his own company. “You’ve got a love story in there, you’ve got jealousy, you’ve got fun, you’ve got everything you can think of all bundled up into one.”
Not to mention plenty of actual step-dancing, to be performed by a large cast of dancers in addition to the play’s seven speaking roles.
For Davis and Alemaedae (pronounced AH-LEM-AH-DAY), the theater company Davis launched in 2007, “Let’s Get It In” is just the latest in a series of original productions that have been gaining attention on the local theater scene. The company has tried its hand at sketch comedy, dinner theater and straight-ahead drama, with short runs and novice actors who always have one eye on their next career move.
“We’ve introduced a lot of new actors to people who would normally not see them on other stages,” Davis said. “Some of the actors that have been in our shows have now been able to work at Road Less Traveled Theatre and Irish Classical and a whole lot of other things have come from them being in our shows and being seen.”
Alemaedae alum Barry Williams, for instance, was recently seen in Road Less Traveled Productions’ “Antony and Cleopatra.” Other Alemaedae alums, Davis said, have gone on to New York City or are working in film or modeling.
In March, Davis and his company will mount their first co-production with a long-standing Buffalo theater, Ujima. The companies will collaborate on a production of Charles Fuller’s chilling 1980 play “Zooman and the Sign” — like “Let’s Get It In,” an all-too-rare exploration of African-American issues on Buffalo stages.•
WHAT: “Let’s Get It In”
WHEN: 4 p. m. Sunday
WHERE: Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts, 450 Masten Ave.
TICKETS: $15 in advance or $20 at the door
INFO: 602-6253 or www.atpgalaxy.com