In college, as a Theater minor, I participated in a play called The Zoo Story, by Eugene O’Neill. It’s a comical, two act, two character play about two men sitting in Central Park arguing about what a zoo truly is. In my theater teacher’s interpretation, he had the two central characters, and the rest of our class portrayed animals. I was a panther. Sounds odd, but the play was still entertaining. In essence, most theater plays based on the classics are always the director’s interpretation of an already hit play. I had the occasion of witnessing director Arturo Fernandez’s interpretation of the first-time play The Hate U Gave; which is written by Meshaun Arnold, who also stars as the lead character. Before entering the Ground Up and Rising troupe’s theater (located on the Miami Dade College South Campus), I was skeptical about the playwright’s take. Once in the theater, I was surprised.
The Hate U Gave is about Tupac Shakur’s days in a New York Correctional Facility. For most of the play, he’s talking to an unknown, new cellmate. At first, I couldn’t believe how Arnold was able to transform himself into Shakur. Despite the two looking nothing alike, Arnold mastered the essence of Shakur quite nicely.
Arnold, as Shakur, has a great sense of humor and pleasantly breaks the fourth wall with the audience members, actually transforming into the late rapper. His writing is also pretty good. To break the monotony of a one-man show, he added an ensemble of men and women who represent the letters that Shakur received while in prison – an interesting approach as they seemed to be voicing the opinions of the people.
What I found odd was toward the end of this one act play, things got terribly strange. Arnold and his female cast mates (Verdonna Burnett, Renata Ferreira and Violet Tafari) begin making cat-like movements for no apparent reason. Then, Arnold commences to take ten minutes too long acting out what appears to be a dream, while Burnett, et al portray invisible feline creatures. For a moment, I thought I had been transported back to the Dada Era of theater where any and everything goes; even if it doesn’t make any sense.
This weirdness I attribute to Arnold and Fernandez. Arnold for writing such ridiculousness into his play and overacting, Shakespearean style, for a small theater. And, Fernandez for making it visual. The two weird scenes seem to be what happens when good writers get writer’s block and the director takes a deus ex machina (creating resolution at last minute because there wasn’t one to begin with) approach that goes totally wrong.
After the weirdness subsides, Arnold and company go back to basics and the play gets interesting again.
Burnett stands out as a rape victim who accuses Shakur of rape and ends up in jail herself. No stranger to the South Florida stage, Burnett’s mastery of the anger and regret helped create a strong and powerful portrayal.
Other actors of note are Richard W. Wasserman who plays “The Man,” Reggie Beaubrun and Any Jean Gilles are the sidekicks/correction officers, and little Lustine Francois portrays Little Tupac. Each male gave a solid performance.
The play had promise, but may need a new director or a revised ending.
All in all, I did enjoy the play and only checked my watch during the weirdness. It was a good time at the theater, a play I think you readers will enjoy. Just make sure to get there early. It’s a small theater.
Photo by Khary Bruyning. Meshaun Arnold