MIRAMAR – Just in time to recognize the 22nd anniversary of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, patrons of the arts witnessed first-hand the impact it has on individuals, families and communities.
The widely acclaimed screenplay U Got Me Bent and Twisted premiered at the Miramar Cultural Center/Arts Park to a sold-out crowd of 800 people who traveled from all over South Florida on Saturday, Oct. 10.
The play, which opened in Miramar for one night only, brought a dramatic, yet comedic tone to an issue negatively impacting more than 25 percent of families in the United States.
The play was written and produced by Cookie Wiggins, wife of Clear Channel’s WMIB 103.5 The Beat general sales manager Don Wiggins.
Cookie Wiggins initially promoted her play in Saginaw, Michigan, where she serves as the executive director of the Harvest House Shelter, a safe haven for abused and neglected women, children and homeless people.
In 2008, after servicing more than 10,000 domestic violence victims, she decided to use theater as a means of breaking the “perpetual” cycle of domestic violence.
“Working on this play has been a life-changing experience,” Wiggins told the South Florida Times. “My faith in God, family and friends has brought me through and helped me get the play to where it is now.”
A re-creation of Harvest House served as the only set for the two-hour play, which gave the audience a glimpse into the daily lives of abused and neglected people who turn to the shelter as a safe haven.
From sexually mature adolescents to drug addicts, verbally and mentally abused women, prostitutes and criminals, the characters in the play represented real people whom members of the audience may have encountered in their own lives.
In an effort to promote the play on a national level, Wiggins decided to move it to South Florida, and sought out her nationally known producer cousin, Norris Wiggins, to pull talent from the area.
“We came to Florida looking for some good talent and we surely found some,” Norris Wiggins said. “Believe me, Miami is on the map.”
The play featured actress Jo Marie Payton, an Opa-locka native and personal friend of Wiggins.
Best known for her role as Harriet Winslow on the syndicated sitcom Family Matters, Payton expressed her excitement at being cast for a play that has combined talents from the North and South in an effort to build domestic violence awareness.
“We’ve all gone through life’s challenges and none of us are immune. It was important to bring diversity to the Miramar Cultural Center to really open it up to the community,” Payton said. “This play covers a lot of ground and shows that domestic violence isn’t just physical. It’s also mental, spiritual and emotional. We wanted to kick this off in Miami for one night only and then we’re going to travel.”
Local entertainment contributor Vincent Beasley, whose record label V Records created a song for the Miami Heat titled “We’re Back,” told the South Florida Times that he is proud to be part of “this movement,” and felt privileged to share the stage with great actresses such as Payton.
He said the Wiggins family held a casting call in which local and aspiring actors were asked to audition for a part in the play.
“When I came, I told him that I merely wanted to be allowed to add a poetry piece to the audition of one of my artists, Lyneise Rachelle,” Beasley said. “Norris said, ‘Sure,’ but still insisted that I audition for the part. He gave her a part and then he asked me to do a small cameo in the play in which I agreed. I decided to do it for the V-Records team and my community.”
Beasley also said he is blessed to be able to showcase his talents in his hometown and as an alum of Miami Northwestern Senior High School, Miami-Dade College and Nova Southeastern University. He said he considers himself a prime example of Miami’s homegrown talent.
“I grew up with a strong, innate desire to succeed and excel in everything,” he said.
In the play, Beasley plays a “pimp-like” character with issues of insecurity—similar to those that are affiliated with aggressors in domestic-violence situations. He told the South Florida Times that during rehearsals, the cast members often shared stories of their experiences with domestic violence and how much other people in their immediate circles have been affected by it.
“My father abused my mother, so I have also been victimized by domestic violence,” he said. “In a previous relationship I was a personal victim, so it changed and affected a large part of my adult life. This play provided an awareness of domestic violence with a taste of humor, an ounce of drama, and a spoonful of reality that needs to be addressed and I was pleased to serve as an advocate. We felt great about it being sold out.”
Beasley said cast members also went to Café Iguana Pines in Pembroke Pines this past Monday, Oct. 12 to further promote the play and spread the message about domestic violence.
“On Monday, we went to Café Iguana with Dave Hollister to do a live remote to talk about the upcoming shows,” Beasley said. “Besides a tentative show in Port St. Lucie next month, we are also in the planning stages for additional promos and will definitely be doing a show at the Joseph Caleb Center real soon.”
Photo: Cookie Wiggins