For the sixth year, Horse Trade leads the push towards new possibilities in Black Theater.
Horse Trade Theater Group and The Fire This Time Festival are making waves in contemporary black theater. In this, their annual ten-minute play festival, they provide a platform for talented early-career playwrights of African and African American descent to explore challenging new directions for 21st century theater.
This year, the festival has chosen to honor Alex Harsley, founder of the nonprofit art organization Minority Photographers Inc. and celebrated photographer whose 4th Street Photo Gallery has been a staple of the East Village since the 1970s. The seven plays performed at this year's performance are each inspired by one of Harsley's photographs, and though that means a lot of plays taking place during a shoeshine, you can clearly see the snapshots in time each play draws inspiration from. Harsley was in the audience on Saturday night, contributing to the sense of community that the festival seeks to create.
Seven Brand New Plays
"Dolphins and Sharks" by James A. Tyler is a workplace mini-drama, about two African American sales clerks at a photocopy shop, their Latina manager and the constraints their owners and society as a whole puts on their success. From the college-educated young man barely making above minimum wage to his boss who couldn't afford to fly to her grandfather's funeral, Tyler paints a sympathetic portrait of the struggles so many people go through simply to get and keep a job.
Azure D. Osborne-Lee's "The Sandbox" is a moment of childhood innocence, with pretend safaris, smuggled love notes and a stolen kiss while laundry is hung out on the line to dry. "Easy to Fall in Love" by Larry Powell, on the other hand, is a provocative, jarring piece about a cocaine addict absentee father and an aimless, promiscuous son at their first moment of meeting.
"Not in This Room" by Daaimah Mubashshir was clearly the crowd favorite of the evening. After Abdullah Rasheed's father dies, he and his young wife come over to his mother's house for dinner with the intention of moving in with her, as their culture would dictate, only to find his childhood home changing. This play is a study of how Islam and feminism can be mortal enemies, but also how, with a little forgiveness, three strong, devout women can find peace in their home.
"The Marriage of Zoltar, or Rollercoaster: Your Love" is one of the most modern pieces, as a young woman complete sabotages her boyfriend's attempted proposal. Rod Gailes' play is a story about how two people can spend their lives together without ever understanding each other. Could have used more of the live Zoltar machine, though.
Aziza Barnes' "A Military Habit" tells the all-too-common story of a pair of siblings wondering who their father is, and whether they actually want to know anyway. And finally, "Coal Run Road" by Julienne Hairston merges Ferguson, MO with Jay-Z, as young and famous black musical artist Caleb returns to the place he once called home and finds even fewer opportunities to escape poverty than when he himself got out. We begin the evening with fair pay and end it with "Hands up, don't shoot" as Hairston shows that in a police state, no one is safe.
The Fire This Time 10-Minute Play Festival plays through January 30 at the Kraine Theater.
This article was previously published on CHARGED.fm.