When I first heard about Zooman and the Sign, it was just a play in Liberty City performed by the African American Performing Arts Community Theatre, Inc. (AAPACT).
The night I attended the play, I had no expectations; which is unusual. I knew it was a play about a ruthless teen who kills a little girl, and his “neighbors” rise up against him, because the girl’s father posts a sign on his porch. But that was about it.
Zooman is reminiscent of two Eugene O’Neill plays: The Hairy Ape and The Zoo Story. Ape is about a brutish man who is misunderstood. Zoo Story is a conversation between two men in Central Park, expounding on how society is one big zoo.
In Zooman, the title character, Zooman (played refreshingly by Derrick Chiverton) is such a hairy ape of a teenager living in such a zoo of a society, he has no concern about anyone but himself. He’s supposed to be irredeemable. Only Chiverton, who I’m sure did his homework on the character, made Zooman a person who seemed like he doesn’t care, but you know he does.
While the moral of the story is that there are a lot of “Zoomen” (young men who have gone down the wrong path and seem lost), I couldn’t help wanting to know more about Zooman. He’s someone I almost pity, because he misses out on the joys of life, because he had a rough childhood. Taking a child’s life is nothing to him, because he didn’t have much of a childhood himself.
As you can tell, of the characters, I liked Zooman the most; which is odd because I don’t usually like the villain. The only conclusion I can reach is that Chiverton’s character is a real madman, but Chiverton took that madman and portrayed him as someone who just needs some guidance.
I know that’s not all Chiverton. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Charles Fuller wrote Zooman’s psyche into his play, and director Andre Gainey directed Chiverton on how to be real. I’m just glad Chiverton carried it through without hesitation.
Now that I’ve waxed poetic about an actor’s first professional performance, I will move on to other important things. The Wendell Narcisse Theater in the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center is somewhat small. Director Gainey made sure to have the action up close and in the face of his audience, too.
So, even though the characters break, not bust through, the fourth wall, if you sit in the front of the theater, be prepared to take in all of the action as if you were in the play itself. This approach is nerve-wracking for an audience member. At first, not many are used to such close action. Then again, it makes the story come to life.
Gainey, a gentle, yet determined man, is the kind of director who can motivate his subjects, not tell them what to do. He’s a true leader and father of the production.
Gainey is a top director; which is hard for me to say because of I’ve only seen his work once: Zooman. But I do look forward to seeing more of his work.
Other actors of note are Carey Hart as Rachel Tate. Rachel loses her 10-year-old daughter, Jinny, to a stray bullet shot by Zooman. Hart, a celebrity in the Black
Acting movement in South Florida, seems to be going through two extremes: holding back and giving way too much. Rachel, the character, is a little on the melodramatic side, but I wish Hart had been more pensive than theatrical.
Chiverton, a recent high school graduate on his way to Florida A & M University, wasn’t the only teenage actor in this play. Curtis Holland and Lamar Swan are both still in high school, and Zooman is their first professional play, as well.
Swan is decent as Russell Adams, the young neighbor kid. Holland, who plays slain Jinny’s older brother Victor, seems uncomfortable with his character. I couldn’t picture him as a child growing up in a lower-class neighborhood in the 1980s. However, I can see him on Broadway. His presence seems more suited for a big theater than a small, intimate play.
I would also like to commend Rachel Finley. She’s not pencil thin, but she carries off Flashdance wear, complete with see-through tights and ankle warmers, like a master. Her comfort and ease in her character is most evident. Looking at her cast photo and seeing her on the stage shows a complete transformation from Finley to vamp neighbor Grace Georges. Grace is the type of neighbor you want to slap in the face, but she’s so entertaining, it stays your hand.
Speaking of entertainment, the comic relief for the play is Uncle Emmett Tate (Larry Robinson). Robinson is a tall man with bulging biceps. His Uncle Emmett is the character who says out loud what the audience is thinking and does what he wants to do. I like those kinds of real characters.
Other actors of note are Teddy Harrell Jr. as Reuben Tate, Jinny’s father. He is also reminiscent of the Harry Ape. Reuben reacts rather rashly by putting up the sign, but he’s smart enough to know what grabs attention. Harrell’s portrayal is real if not a little boisterous. Then again, that’s just who Reuben is.
I would also like to mention Catherine A. Williams as Ash Boswell. Ash is the aunt that everyone has who is like a mom, but doesn’t dress like one; Ash wears her clothes tight and a little on the short side. And, Kevin Johnson as Donald Jackson is on the odd side. I’m not sure if Jackson, the character, is weird and stiff, or if
Johnson, the actor, is weird and stiff. All I know is Donald Jackson is creeptastic from beginning to end and it worked for the story.
Fuller set out to write the story of young black men and their paths that have gone awry in the 1980s. The shock value of the play isn’t as shocking in the 21st Century, but it is still topical.
I guess the moral of this review is simple: Take your family to see Zooman and the Sign in Liberty City, cover your children’s ears during the curse words, and then have a talk with them about what drives them as kids to keep them positively active. Enjoy Zooman, get there early to get a good seat in the front, and make sure your cell phone is off. You don’t want to miss the in-your-face drama for one second.
Photo by Khary Bruyning. From left to right, Teddy Harrell Jr., Carey Hart and Curtis Holland star as the Tate Family in Zooman and the Sign.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Zooman and the Sign
WHEN: Through Sunday, Nov. 16., Friday at 8 p.m. Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.
WHERE: Wendell Narcisse Theatre, 6161 N.W. 22nd Ave., Miami
CONTACT: 305-638-6771/Box Office 305-637-1895. www.aapact.com, firstname.lastname@example.org