by Okema “Seven” Gunn
Shywanee Manson creates an atmosphere where one has no choice, but to laugh and cry with the characters. The set design was simple without distracting from the pertinence of the play. Realism permeates throughout this tragic story, as Ms. Manson is well-known for her experience and research on socio-economic issues. She provides a unique story-telling approach which both engages and connects with audiences. She’s a modern day griot! This musical dramedy was an awakening and awareness of the condition of our community. Manson often writes about pain and struggle in our society and what is to be done about it.
Although, there has been a fluctuation of the number of deaths….. gun violence and crime…still has not stopped. Until people have had enough; it won’t cease. The pain will continue. Recently, there has been protesting of a gun shop in the community in which guns have been identified in several violent crimes. This is one way, but not the only way. Each person must do their part. If you see something, say something. If you see that someone is doing wrong, talk to the person if plausible or report it to the authorities. These crimes are taking place because it’s being allowed. “Put the guns down and stop the violence.”
Ms. Manson addresses families in agony, evolution of the gangs, drug addiction, isolation, infidelity…..aspects of a damaged and broken society. When going through, Manson urges her characters to search deep within to find an answer to their struggles. Khadija-Freeman provides a stellar performance as a mother that has lost a son to gun violence. Richard Reed, the father of the deceased teen, also gives a stunning portrayal of the roller-coaster-ride of emotions felt after the incident.
Brian “Wildcat” Smith gives a brief and animated, comedic monologue, not only bringing down the house with laughter, but highlighting the harsh realities of the day. He delivers a light, refreshing perspective on life, while interjecting humor and wit without all the vulgar obscenities and the profane. Smith was able to mesh well with characters and play a vital supporting role into the scenes at the bar.
Wonderful acting and singing by all actors, especially: Khadija-Freeman, Gary “Lil G” Jenkins, Edgar ”Gemini” Porter, Torraino Holmes, and Bess Mangram. “Lil G” and “Gemini” from “Silk” and “Men at Large” had me singing along and reminiscing to songs from back in the day! These actors also gave a great supporting cast: Mr. Leslie, Corey Bailey, Tjuana Bothe, BernNadette Stanis, Michelle Shelton, Eric Bryant, and Sterling Manson.
Families of Hadiya Pendelton, Cortez Bailey and others attended, while reaching out to Ms. Manson, Khadija-Freeman, and staff to talk about the connection of emotion made during the performance (addressing the aftermath of events). They thanked the staff and crew personally for putting together the musical and working hard towards fighting against gun violence and crime in our society.
Speaker and Activist, Andrew Holmes spoke to the crowd. “God has a message here. There’s something special in store for this cast and crew. You have a chance to see what families are going through. It has transformed them, made them laugh and made them cry. Never underestimate the power of what can be solved by God.”
This well-constructed piece embodied a powerful spoken word that resonated throughout the audience. It forced me go back home, re-evaluate, and do some more soul searching about what I can do to further aid in helping our community. Search down deep for what you can hold onto. Make it positive and share your best self with others. If you don’t know how…. ask someone who can help you. Self-love, self-awareness, and development of identity are needed. You do what you know. Love one another and appreciate your community. Do you know how to love?
Call to Change. Make a war on ignorance, poverty, and violence. Everyone is trying to survive. The thing is… some people are better at it than others. It’s just a fact. If everyone did their part, the world would be a better place. I’m fighting my own battles with pain. But, I’m gonna do something about it! Create a change. Take ownership of the community and clean it up. Not just pumping in dollars. Making a difference in your mind, in your heart, and in your soul. Then take action and do something! Your life is valuable and so is mine. Still in chains… The war rages on! Let’s break these chains and fight the battle together. Won’t you help with the repair? Sometimes when people hurt, they hurt others. That’s the reality, but it’s not the way. We need to build each other up and not tear each other down. Because “When You Cry, I Cry” too.
I will conclude by leaving you with a poignant quote from one of Shywanee Manson’s characters….They have been forged by a trial of fire and now become clean by a slow healing. Eventually, the parents of the deceased experience God’s tender mercies, pull together, and await a long, but righteous determination through the eyes of God….“I saw myself in you, and I thank God for you…because I felt free.”
*This play took place Aug 23, 2014 at the Harold Washington Cultural Center. For more information on
Shywanee Manson go to http://shyfoxproductions.com