A leap of faith looks like a winner

Play: Drama about unconditional love puts Katana Lazet Hall center stage.

Theater

January 01, 2001|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Over the years, Katana Lazet Hall repeatedly considered entering the annual competition for black playwrights sponsored by Arena Players and WMAR-TV (Channel 2). But she never did.

She was teaching theater and writing at various colleges around town and didn't want to compete with her students, whom she encouraged to participate.

Then a year ago, Hall gave up teaching to start an independent film and video company called A Leap of Faith Productions. This time she decided to give the playwriting contest a shot. And she won first place in the 20th anniversary competition.

Her play, "Nana's Room," will be broadcast on Channel 2 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 10.

The day she learned she'd won, Hall had just begun working on a show for Baltimore's cable station, Channel 21. "I was riding high off of preparing to do my first show for cable television - really nervous," said the 42-year-old Ednor Gardens resident.

"And then I checked my messages. ... I was like, you're kidding, you don't know how many years I started to do this, years where I got to the 10th hour and said, no, no. I wanted my students to have the opportunity."

The author of more than 20 plays, Hall spent 16 years in academia, most of it on the faculties of Morgan State University and Turo College in New York.

Partly based on her own family history, "Nana's Room" is a domestic drama that explores the theme of unconditional love. "It's about generational dynamics that clash," Hall said. "Four generations are represented, and they all bring their sensibility or perspective to the play."

The action begins after the wake of a great-great-grandmother, who had made a tradition of giving each family member a handmade quilt as a 16th birthday gift. The title character's great-great-granddaughter, who is about to turn 16, is extremely upset that Nana's death has deprived her of her quilt. Another quilt, an heirloom that chronicles the family's genealogy from the arrival of two female slaves in the 1700s, also plays a major role in the drama.

Amini Johari-Courts, associate artistic director of Arena Players, said she and the seven jurors who selected "Nana's Room" were impressed by the issues the play raises. "It is very inclusive of what we like to call family values: honesty and love and the general sense of support for family members," explained Courts, who is co-directing the teleplay with WMAR's Harry Kakel. "We like to highlight some of the positive issues about African-American life and lifestyles."

As part of her prize, Hall won $1,000, which she says will probably go into her new business.

Although she's a first-time winner, Hall has connections with both the second-and third-place winners in this year's competition.

Christopher Kess, who won second prize and $500, attended a performance class taught by Hall at Morgan State, where he will resume his studies this semester. He currently works for the nonprofit Police Foundation in Washington. "Secrets," his first play, is about a young woman who is sexually assaulted and the impact the crime has on her and her family.

R.B. Jones, winner of third prize and $250 for his play, "The Award," is a seasoned playwright who collaborated on a different play with Hall a decade ago. "The Award" is based on declassified FBI files about surveillance of the civil rights movement in Baltimore. Originally submitted to the Arena Players-WMAR contest in one of its first years, the play has subsequently been presented at the theater and area colleges. Jones is a columnist for the Baltimore Times and an adjunct English professor at Baltimore City Community College.

Broadway opening delayed

"Tallulah," the one-woman show starring Kathleen Turner that played the Mechanic Theatre in November, has postponed its Broadway opening until fall 2001. A shortage of available Broadway theaters was cited by the play's producers as the reason for the delay.

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