Soapbox on stage

At Theatre Project, `Peaches' storms headlong into racial stereotypes from slavery till today

February 15, 2007|By Carolyn Peirce | Carolyn Peirce,sun reporter

The cast of Progress Theatre is transforming the stage into its soapbox with a message that's loud and clear: Cultural stereotypes are destructive to humanity.

In its production Peaches, the cast addresses racial issues still alive in America today and hopes to pry open minds at Theatre Project tonight.

"Entertainment is a vehicle to talk about things, and we can use it to interrogate different issues with all the styles and genres that can be incorporated into theater," said playwright and director Cristal Chanelle Truscott.

Inspired by Nina Simone's classic tune "Four Women," Truscott created a show that tracks the same character, Peaches, from slavery to the present day.

"Each verse of Nina Simone's song is dedicated to an archetype of African-American women," Truscott said. "The last verse is about Peaches, who is the stereotypical angry black woman. ... The purpose of the show is to break down that stereotype, to defy it and to put humanity back into the African-American woman," she said.

Pushing the limits of traditional theater, Peaches spins a complex web of staged essays, spirituals, blues, jazz, soul, dance and storytelling.

The cast includes Maiesha McQueen, Dana Bowles and Aaron Goodson, who tackle social concerns in their roles. The women play the character Peaches over five scenes confronting the changing face of cultural prejudice.

"It's multiple ways of looking at the same stereotype as it develops through time," Truscott said. The different characters are Slave Peaches, Blue Peaches, Love-Chain Peaches and Progressive Peaches, according to Bowles, who is also a Randallstown High School teacher and graduate of the Baltimore School for the Arts.

"Blue Peaches is the woman who wants to lose her mind and experience what it would be like to be careless," said Bowles. "Love-Chain Peaches is a reference to our different complexions with the lightest women at the top of the chain and the darkest women at the bottom. ... Progressive Peaches is a call to action. It's the most contemporary scene in the play about issues facing the black community," she said.

The production addresses the social and academic dialogue around race but incorporates humor into the issues bound to make audiences uncomfortable, according to Bowles.

"The emotional life of the piece runs the gamut in mirroring life, because it is sort of all these emotions at the same time," Truscott said.

Peaches was created just six years ago when the cast members were students at New York University, but audiences have fueled its rapid success.

"I almost never bring a show back, but we're really enthusiastic about this work," said Anne Fulwiler, producing director of Theatre Project.

The in-your-face realities of Peaches are delivered with a fervor that won't let audiences forget what they've seen. "We're not doing this to get kudos for ourselves," said Bowles, "We do it so people will walk away feeling inspired to do something, continue the conversation and take action to try and reshape some of the issues presented."

"Peaches" is at Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St., at 8 tonight and tomorrow night and at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Progress Theatre will also debut its newest show, "'Membuh," a play about family and self-discovery, in a one-night-only performance at 8 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets are $11-$16. Call 410-752-8558 or go to missiontix.com or theatreproject.org.

carolyn.peirce@baltsun.com

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