Part movement, part poetry, part song, part private reverie and part shared experience, Denise A. Gantt's "meditations/from the ash" is a thoughtful evocation of love, loss and the trials of being a black single mother.
Receiving its theatrical premiere at the Theatre Project, this 1997 Artscape playwriting award winner occasionally falls victim to overly precious writing ("the more I become like the desert/the less I become like grains of sand," is one example).
Several elements, however, keep the piece involving. The first is the fluid and varied performance style, which, as directed by Rebecca Rice, incorporates dance, music, storytelling and choral speech.
The production's four actresses -- Ieasha Prime, TB Christie, Trlica K. Gilmore and Amitiyah Elayne Hyman -- at times appear to depict aspects of the same woman. At other times, they can be anything from a river, represented by lying head-to-toe under a long piece of silver fabric, to the man who got away, portrayed by a finger-snapping trio wearing dark glasses and a darker attitude. David Burdick's lush, layered costume designs also add visual interest.
Another element that keeps the piece from drifting off into artiness is the inclusion of sharp glimpses of reality, interspersed between the more florid passages. One of the most poignant of these reality checkpoints is a description of a single mother spotting her infant daughter's long-gone father standing in the return line at Value City.
Gantt explains in a program note that this autobiographical story was the starting point for the piece, which grew out of a 1996 workshop conducted by performance artist Rhodessa Jones at Center Stage. Gantt, who runs Theater for a New Generation, Center Stage's young-audience development program, acknowledges Jones' influence as well as that of Ntozake Shange, author of "for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf."
For the most part, however, Gantt moves beyond the anger often expressed in those women's works.
Instead, she concentrates on the notion that women -- and not just African-American women -- are part of a historical and spiritual continuum, which helps give them the strength to anticipate a positive future.
This uplifting outlook drew appreciative feedback at the opening night post-show discussion. The Theatre Project plans to institute more of these discussions throughout the season, a welcome idea for a venue whose offerings can be rather arcane.
"meditations/from the ash" -- the second half of the title refers, in part, to rebirth -- is the first production by Gantt's newly formed Medusa Theatre Company, dedicated to telling women's stories.
It's a far more polished and focused work than "Hunger," Gantt's short piece that was included in the Women's Project anthology at the Theatre Project in December. And, though "meditations" could use a little tightening, it's a noteworthy creative effort by a talented local writer.
'meditations/ from the ash'
Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $14 Call: 410-752-8558
Pub Date: 2/24/98