Been meaning to write this for a while, but now have even more to write about on this subject. In May, 2012, I wrote the first version of this (loosely based on Esquire's regular column – which regularly features scantily clad if often talented actresses), but took a left turn with it, featuring women whose brains, courage, talent and spirit attracted me (primarily via documentaries of their lives and exploits.)
Now focusing on another category of women – the extravagantly talented, world-class actresses that Ron Himes has been bringing to St. Louis audiences on Black Rep stages.
I first experienced this phenomenon when I acted with the Company during the 2011 season. In Shakespeare's epic PERICLES (where I played about half-a-dozen small roles and was able to witness this), I was able to play scenes with Sharisa Whatley as Marina (where her unstoppable innocence demolished my New Orleans bordello attendant's desire to make her one of our offerings) and Patrese McClain as Thaisa. It was backstage, awaiting an entrance with Patrese that I first observed her commitment and passion – marveling at the tears in her eyes, which served as an emotional transition for her between scenes.
If I was impressed with the two of them in PERICLES, they blew me away in RUINED, the tragic tale of a bawdy house/bar in the middle of the Congo's dangerous warzone. Sharisa was heart-breaking as Salima, who was ruined by rampaging, raping soldiers. And Patrese was a whirlwind force as the lap-dancing favorite of my Lebanese diamond dealers at Mama Nadi's place. (Not to mention Evann Jones who played the songbird Sophie, and who will be mentioned later in this blog.)
Patrese then thoroughly captured my artistic heart as I directed her in Nilaja Sun's one-woman show, NO CHILD… I was able to give small pushes to her as she took off to make this a personal critical and popular triumph.
Sharisa Whatley showed her versatility in THE REAL McCOY that season, and in THE PIANO LESSON during the 2013 season, as strong, supportive women holding their households together.
The 2013 Black Rep season underlined the basic point of this blog with two other very impressive female performances – Alicia Reve as the Lorraine Motel housekeeper who fed Martin Luther King's soul on the last night of his life in THE MOUNTAINTOP (a remarkable display of life, energy and mystery that sustained the show as her character sustained MLK) and FeliceSky Hutchison shining in the usually thankless role of the woman left at home in the Hop Hop drama, SMASH/HIT!
I've been planning to extol these women's talents a couple of times, but fortunately it was delayed until now so I could herald current performances. The Black Rep has revived FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENUF, and the entire cast of actresses are a sterling ensemble. Every woman is good (including Patrese, elegant and graceful throughout, and impressive in a number of roles, and Evann De-Bose (formerly Jones) who made me laugh out loud with her sparkling delivery.) Standouts include Andrea Purnell, new to The Black Rep delivering one of the cleanest, most accomplished solo monologues I've ever seen with “Somebody Almost Walked Off Wid Alla My Stuff,” and the one and only Linda Kennedy, stalwart Company member, hitting cleanup for the show with the classic “A Nite With Beau Willie Brown”…shocking, gut-wrenching, an emotional volcano example of story-telling.
More evidence – Ron Himes recognizes great female talent (male, too, I have to admit, but that's another story), casts it and directs it to true theatrical heights.
St. Louis audiences are blessed.