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Your Past is Around the Corner: A Review of Annex Theater’s “Insurrection: Holding History”

If you want to see a play that forces you to think about how the past influences the present, Robert O’Hara’s Insurrection: Holding History, is a must-see. O’Hara, who wrote the play as his graduate thesis, explores themes of ancestry, race, and sexuality.

Ron (right) drives T.J. (left) home. Mutha Wit takes the backseat. (Photo courtesy of Annex Theater)

The play follows Ron (Nathan Steven Couser), a 25-year-old Columbia University doctoral history candidate who is finishing his thesis paper about Nat Turner’s rebellion. Accompanying the central character is his immobile, non-speaking 189-year-old great grandfather, T.J. (Dominic Gladden), who is a former slave. Ron is able to communicate with his grandfather through Mutha Wit (Anna Brown), who is an extension of T.J.’s psyche. Through Mutha Wit, we hear T.J. thoughts and his conversations with his great grandson. After celebrating his 189th birthday, T.J. tells his grandson to take him home.

What better way to get material for your looming thesis paper deadline than to travel with your grandfather to the slave plantation where he lived in Southampton, Virginia? Initially, the play reminds me of Octavia Butler’s Kindred (for those of you who haven’t read the novel, the protagonist is transplanted into slavery times). Although the play’s subject matter can be heavy and dark, especially the scene when the Black overseer (Kalid Bilal) forces both Izzie Mae (Terena McLorn) and Ron to strip in order to beat them, there are comical scenes. The musical dance break that the slaves perform when they discover the master’s dead body is hilarious.

“Yeah! Oh, he’s dead,” the slaves sing gleefully while an image of a cotton plantation is projected on the wall.

And you can’t have a play about slavery and not include the slave owner’s wife. S. Ann Johnson plays Mistress Mo’Tel superbly. There is Katie Lynn (Rachel Reckling), the house slave who cares for Mistress Mo’Tel’s baby, Wretched Jr. (and even that has a twist). Buck Naked (Dave Iden) is the lone White indentured servant who is treated no better than his Black counterparts.

Nat Turner (front) during a rousing sermon. Buck Naked (middle) and Mutha (far left) listen. (Photo courtesy of Annex Theater)

Nat Turner (front) during a rousing sermon. Buck Naked (middle) and Mutha (far left) listen. (Photo courtesy of Annex Theater)

Another aspect of the play is the role of religion. We see Nat Turner (Kalid Bilal), who claims he is a prophet and values the Bible; yet, he is able to justify brutally killing Whites. As Ron watches the brutality of the reality that surrounds him, he asks his grandfather does he believe in God. Fervently, the grandfather tells his grandson, “You are the proof. Slavery ends.”

As a viewer, the play challenges the notion that history is not connected to the present. O’Hara seems to suggest that life is a continuation of experiences that are rooted in the past. As T.J. puts it to Ron, “You wake up every morning breathing the air that Nat Turner fought for you to breathe and you sleep every night with no fear ’cause that crazy nigga shouted out at the moon asking his God for a way through this trouble.”

Insurrection also examines the quest for an individual to find his purpose. The question that Hammet (Kenyon Parson), Nat Turner’s right-hand man, asks Ron is a poignant one: “You ain’t got something you willing to die for?”

Insurrection runs through October 25th at the Annex Theater (219 Park Ave, Baltimore, MD). The play is directed by Kyle Jackson. Tickets are $15.00 (general admission) and $7.00 (students). Visit Annex Theater website for more information at http://www.baltimoreannextheater.org.

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Guess whose Back?

It’s been a long time! But I am back. I’ve been busy promoting my short story collection, Street Magic: Stories and Tales. If you don’t know, Street Magic is a collection of nine short stories that I wrote while a student at the University of Baltimore. The characters are zany and authentic. Everyone who has read my book always says, “Your writing is so vivid. I could picture the stories.” I’ve been playing with the idea of creating a book trailer or adding an audiovisual component… we shall see.

My New Year’s resolution was to get back on track. I have been a few places to promote my book. I’ve been to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History luncheon held in Washington, DC on February 28th. It was my first vendor opportunity. In retrospect, I was not that prepared to play with the big boys. I brought myself and my books—no business cards, not even a poster. Needless to say, when I saw the other authors bring their A-game, I knew I had to kick it up a notch.

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Mary B. Banks at the ASLAH luncheon held during Black History Month 2015.

My book, Street Magic, on display.

Street Magic on display at the ASALH’s Authors Event held on February 28, 2015 in Washington, DC.

At the event, several people purchased my book. Me being the bibliophile that I am, I ended up spending the money buying other authors’ book. Although, I spent majority of the money on the same day, it was fun to get out of Baltimore to see other parts of the country. That is what I love about writing–it takes you on a journey. Are you ready for the literary ride?

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Indie writers, don’t throw in the towel!

Mary B. Banks, Baltimore indie author, proudly holds her debut short story collection, Street Magic: Stories and Tales.

I have been working hard to promote Street Magic: Stories and Tales. To date, here’s my progress so far: Street Magic is at Atomic Books and Amazon.com. My next step is to get reviews for my book. I have received great feedback from two people, a classmate from the University of Baltimore and my former English teacher, and that makes me feel awesome! As a writer, I feel like when I write, I am writing in a dark room. I don’t know if people will love my work, hate it, talk crap about it, criticize it… So when people say that they actually enjoyed reading my book, well that’s icing on the cake. It makes me feel that my hard work paid off, that my countless hours of writing and designing the book weren’t done in vain, that I’m not delusional to think that I have something that people will not only read, but will pay to read. Before I started La Muse Press, I would have given my work away for free, because it’s not about the money, it’s about the art, but now I have to run a business; therefore, I need to make a profit. However, no dollar amount will ever compensate for the feeling you get when readers have kind, sincere words to say about your work–it’s an instant picker-upper. An espresso shot of confidence and reassurance. Always remember the best form of publicity and/or advertisement is WORD OF MOUTH. No dollar amount can pay for the natural buzz and momentum that surrounds a product when people enjoy a product so much that they HAVE to tell their family and friends. So, if you’re an emerging writer, please hang in there, because you never know if you might have a hit on your hands. Be honest with yourself and write every day. Your wish might come true. Keep dreaming and find ways to make your dreams become true one step at a time.

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