REVIEW: Woods' vision at PSI Theater an amazing adventure

May. 03, 2014 @ 03:23 PM

Andrea E. Woods pays homage to ancestors and storytelling in her multimedia show, “The Amazing Adventures of Grace May. B. Brown."

The masterful blending of music, movement, narration, costume and images projected on a screen, earned a standing ovation at the Friday premiere. The hour-long show continues through Sunday, May 4, at the Durham Arts Council’s PSI Theater.

Kudos to the talented cast: dancers Jessica Burroughs, Chanelle Croxton, Aya Shabu and Kara Simpson; narrator Dorothy Clark; musicians/composers Shana Tucker and Julia Price and production team: costume designer Pamela Bond and lighting designer Kathy Perkins.

Woods has multiple roles. She plays “Nana,” the aunt, who seeks to instruct her nieces (the dancers) in life lessons. She wrote the script and lyrics. She also plays the thumb piano, banjo as well as sings and dances in the show. And, she produced it — no small feat for this multi-faceted work.

This show touches the heart, stimulates the mind, uplifts the spirit. Audience members also literally experience good vibrations. Somehow, when dancers stomp, the vibrations are felt under the theater seats.

This “adventure” explores times of joy and sorrow. There’s the playfulness of children as dancers shriek and run. In a beautiful sequence, they express sheer joy as they leap and twirl “quilts” above their heads. These “quilts” were made from fabric printed with photographic images of African narrative quilts made by Heather Williams. These images, also on costumes and pillows, add color and a sense of history to this production.

The show also addresses dark times past and present. Narrators recount the Civil Rights struggle that pitted people with sticks and stones against dogs and police.

Another section deals with violence against young black men. Woods voices a litany of excuses used by those who have shot and killed these young men. “I shot him because of what he was wearing … because of the music he was listening to … ” This of course, reminds us of Trayvon Martin as well as others, who have been, and continue to be victims of such violence. Dancers repeatedly run, then stop suddenly as though shot.

Woods celebrates African American “sheroes” such as runner Wilma Rudolph, who won her first Olympic medal at age 16 and Bessie Coleman, the first black woman to earn an aviation pilot’s license.

Woods also honors ancestors, including her great, great grandfather John William O’Bryan, who fought on the Union side in the Civil War. Woods, as Nana, says, that if it weren’t for this ancestor and others, “I’d be carrying a passbook instead of carrying a passport.”

There’s also a sense of being supported and protected by ancestors and this imparts a sense of confidence as one moves through life. The wisdom of these ancestors is also expressed in words of wisdom woven throughout this work. These words serve as a primer for how to life a good life. To quote a few:

“Find the treasure in you and look for the treasure in others.”

“Heal from the inside to be free.”

“Live your life with all your might, be prepared to love and fight.”

And, this brings us to “Grace,” who turns out to be a quality instead of a person – a quality available to everyone. As the show’s narrative puts it, “The way we live our lives makes grace.”

Andrea E. Woods’ “The Amazing Adventures of Grace May B. Brown” continues Sunday, May 4 at 3:30 p.m. at Durham Arts Council’s PSI Theater, 120 Morris St., Durham. Tickets $12 adults; $6 children/seniors/students at the door; cash only.