What does it mean to be an American in 2020? If I myself was asked this question, I honestly don’t know how I would have answered. Well, “americUS,” on stage now at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, covered every answer possible from anyone’s ethnic or social economic background.
The four actors walked onto the stage with colorful circus attire. Asia Mark led the way her sultry voice singing “Boom… Boom… Boom.” Soon, everyone followed and her voice was no longer alone. One actor began stomping his feet in pulse. Another beat boxing with his mouth and clapping his hands. Using nothing but natural beat and rhythm makers, a magical melody filled the room. Then came the lyrics. It was singing. It was poetry. It was rapping. It was talking. It was amazing.
As the actors began to tell their stories, I was still trying to figure out what part the circus costumes played. Maybe the world we live in is a circus. As long as each of us are juggling, smiling and doing our job of keeping everyone entertained, no one notices our struggles. No one cares.
One topic that I think has hit home in a lot of downtown, OTR and West End communities is gentrification. As Gamal Chasten created a makeshift tent on stage, he began to speak about the past. A past where he was a homeowner and war veteran. But things changed. Buildings changed. People changed. “I didn’t move here. I was moved here,” is how he described his tent. Living in Walnut Hills, I see this happen all the time. My heart is torn when it comes to this issue, because I believe we need new development in the community, but in no way would I want to force out current residents with housing that isn’t affordable.
At one point in the show, the actors moved their chairs into a semi-circle, facing the audience. With blue and red lights flashing across the stage, they discussed what it feels like to drive as an African American. What our mothers told us to do. What our fathers told us not to do. Don’t ever run. Always keep your hands up. They chanted how not to act Black, while being Black. As an African American woman, it’s hard to hear other people say out loud what we already know, in room full of people who don’t look like you.
I teared up when they began telling a story about school shootings. Children going to school to learn and play and leaving with PTSD. Children who attend Active Shooter Drills and now have nightmares about hiding in a closet to save their life. I am not a mother, but I am an aunt. To think my nephew will have to participate in something like that when he is of age terrified me. My tears weren’t only for him. They were also for my brother and sister-in-law who will have to explain why this is a situation where they can’t protect him, and he will have to protect himself.
Now, don’t think this whole performance was heavy. It wasn’t. There were tons of laughs and occasional words of confirmation from brown sugared audience members. Various cultural references filled each monologue that everyone could appreciate with a good chuckle. This is a production that you should bring not only your family and friends to, but coworkers as well.
One of my favorite parts was baking the Impeachment Pie. Stir in secret documents, lies, two shakes of the Mueller Report and put it in the oven. Let the crust bake until it’s a nice cheddar orange. Seriously, everyone was doubled over slapping their knee by the time pie was done baking. I can’t spoil that for you, though. I’m going to let them tell you what it tastes like.
Marissa Staples is a Cincinnati published author and writer for “The Voice of Black Cincinnati.” She developed her love of arts from her mother, Kandi. Being a native of Cincinnati, she loves to travel. If she is not traveling, you can find her reading, writing, volunteering or drinking wine. Wine always brings smiles, friends and creative dialogue.