Sunday, June 19, 2022

"Spittin' Seeds" at Penumbra Theatre

For two years, the artists in Penumbra Theatre's Ashe Lab Residency program have been working together to create a new work of theater/music/dance/poetry. The result is Spittin' Seeds, a 75-minute celebration of Black joy, community, culture, and resiliency. It touches on tragedy as well, but for the most part it's a magical, mystical, beautiful tapestry of song, dance, scenes, and visual delights. Including the talented cast comprised of #TCTheater veterans and young actors, it's a really lovely collaboration by all of the artists involved. See it at Penumbra through June 26 only.

Created by playwright Erin Sharkey, composer and sound designer Queen Drea, and choreographers Orlando Hunter and Ricarrdo Valentine, aka Brother(hood) Dance!, the website describes the piece thusly: "Spittin’ Seeds conjures the fabric of a close-knit Black community and the timeless forces that guide and protect it. This boldly original work moves between celestial realms and St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood, a place saturated with memory and a visceral sense of belonging and resilience. Fusing movement, sound, and storytelling with Afrofuturist flourishes, Spittin’ Seeds is an experimental portrait of a neighborhood forever renewing itself."

Tumelo Khupe and Talief Ticker stargaze
(photo courtesy of Penumbra)
This isn't a straight-forward linear narrative, rather a series of vignettes that take place in the neighborhood, in nature, or in some mystical other place (the title comes from a lovely story about eating cherries right from the trees and spitting the seeds as far as they can go). The show opens and is overseen by "Guidance and Protection," personified by James Craven as a sort of friendly ancestor figure with a magical stick. On the earthly plane, Shoo Mama (a warm and maternal Aimee K. Bryant) looks over the young people that live on the block, played by Antonio Duke and a group of young artists that make me feel quite confident about the future of #TCTheater: Kyra Richardson, Talief Ticker, Michael Seye, Kalala Kiwanuka-Woernie, and Tumelo Khupe. Choreographers Orlando and Ricarrdo also play a neighborhood couple, and perform a couple of powerful and evocative dance pieces. Accompanying the scenes and dances is a soundscape created and performed by Queen Drea, who also sings a pretty fantastic original empowerment song.

Aimee K. Bryant on the front porch
(photo courtesy of Penumbra)
On the side of the stage is a Seussian tree with glowing lights. The only structure on stage is a front  porch in the middle of the back wall, upon which images and videos are projected. A scrim is at times lowered in front of it as we're transported by the projections to another world, sometimes almost 3D in nature. Actors are dressed in casual chic street wear appropriate to each character. All elements of design combine to create this magical landscape for the performers to play in. (Scenic and property design by Sydney Latimer, costume design by Za'Nia Coleman, lighting design by Wu Chen Khoo, projection design by Miko Simmons.)

Spittin' Seeds is a great example of artists from different disciplines working together, combining their talents to great a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts (and all of the parts are pretty great on their own too). Penumbra Theatre has been a pillar of the #TCTheater community for over 40 years; their nurturing and mentoring of artists can only bear great fruit, as evidenced by this show. See it through next weekend only.