Stepping into Matchbox 1, eyes go immediately to the four concentric white circle on stage. Stare long enough and it feels like the beginning of a hypnosis trick. The outlines of the circles start to mimic spirals and the structure begins to feel like an optical illusion. Breaking you out of the trance-like state is a comical pre-recorded introduction, and so the show begins.
Following the 2021 premiere of Candice D'Meza's series of three Afrofuturist micro-films, 30 Ways to Get Free
, produced by Catastrophic Theatre for virtual audiences, Catastrophic and D'Meza connect once again for D'Meza's, A Maroon's Guide to Time and Space.
Immersive and multi-genre, A Maroon's Guide is not a play. It is a "conjure" and "transmutation."
While elements of typical play exist, the use of short films, cosmic video messages, projections and music appeal to senses way beyond sight. D'Meza demands our imagination. For the next 90 minutes, we witness various journeys of freedom and are invited to join in. Directed thoughtfully with astute attention to design by Mikala Gibson and D'Meza, A Maroon's Guide
is an endearing invitation to imagine a freer world.
Gibson and D'Meza manage to transform an intimate black box theater into a galactic universe far far away where time doesn't exist and liberation is always within reach waiting to be desired.
A Maroon's Guide
follows Harriet Tubman (Crystal Rae) as she journeys across time and space learning about freedom and leading others out of slavery under the eccentric image of Akasha (D'Meza) who appears through pre-recorded projection videos and rarely shows her face and the Maroon Frequency (Gibson) whose voice guides and educates.
Several characters like the Professor, The Nonmo, and the Producer (all played by Brittny Bush) and the Lawyer, The Nonmo, and Harriet Greene (all played by Rennette E. Brown) appear along Harriet's journey.
Rae delivers an emotionally grounded performance whose experience of freedom is easily observed in her body. Timid at first, Rae's progressive sense of self-determination and freedom is not overt. Instead, she moves from closed body language to more open. There are more moments where her lips curve up. She's no longer nervous when The Maroon Frequency delivers messages.
Rae's performance surprises because liberation is commonly understood in more bombastic expressions, but Rae, with intentional direction, creates an unconventional expectation of freedom that leaves much to contemplate.
Bush commits wholeheartedly to the comedy of certain moments. She stands out in moments when she has to play to the audience and contributes positively in connecting the audience as witnesses and participants to the conjure.
The Professor (Brittny Bush) telling the story of human trafficking led by the Colonial powers of Portugal, Spain, Belgium, France, and England
Photo by Anthony Rathbun
As the Professor, she makes what could be stodgy exposition, lighthearted and entertaining. However, she does not blow over the brutality of slavery with humor. Instead, she shifts effortlessly between levity and more serious matters with assistance from the lighting (Hudson Davis).
The lighting helps to facilitate an easy move between the more dissonant moves. The stage was also later turned into an impromptu club through the wide-ranging color of disco influenced lights. The lighting changes are never abrupt but rather gingerly changes until the mind registers how significant the change was.
Brown enters the stage with an exclamation delivered so perfectly it feels familiar and universal. Before she even comes on stage, the exclamation evokes exactly what type of character the Lawyer is. In a production highlight which occurs at the end, Brown's performance from weariness to lightness is a theatrical treat.
Harriet (Crystal Rae) and her mother, Harriet (Rennette E. Brown), humming a song and enjoying each other's presence.
Photo by Anthony Rathbun
Besides the performance, there are short-form video content interspersed like a grade-school VHS style qualiy video about Harriet Tubman, the video montages of Akasha, and a short film about K.O (Byron Jacquet) and B (Anthony August), two incarcerated people waiting for a call from Harriet Tubman.
The video design (Tim Thomson) is exceptional. The editing style is different depending on the style and aesthetic of the video which highlights how attentive Thomson, Gibson and D'Meza are. The videos could exist independently of this production and still hold up as works.
They are humorous additions that further relevant ideas around self determination and freedom. All of the videos are projected onto the white concentric circles that begin to resemble an eye as one spends more time watching it. Projections are well used and displayed.
Harriet (Crystal Rae) discovering her freedom with the help of the Nonmo (Brittny Bush and Rennette E. Brown).
Photo by Anthony Rathbun
The most fascinating promise of this play is that it believes that freedom is contagious. Freedom is not dreamed up to be experienced as an individual rather freedom should be shared with others. The women seem to grow closer as the journey draws closer to its end, and watching the development of their sisterhood is a positive accent to this conjure of collective freedom.
A Maroon's Guide excels at balancing the humor of the story without undermining the gravity of the historical damages of slavery. It calls for a reclaiming of ancestral time and might even inspire a few people to quit their day jobs. Freedom is a journey best lived, experienced, and witnessed in community. Or in an intergalactic spaceship conveniently located in an intimate black box theatre.
Performances continue through June 17 at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays at MATCH, 3400 Main. For more information, call 713-521-4533 or visit matchhouston.org. $35 or pay what you can.