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Mixed mixed at Detroit’s Boll YMCA

By |2007-03-01T09:00:00-05:00March 1st, 2007|Uncategorized|

LAYOUT NOTES: (1) This edition is one long piece rather than two; (2) It’s written a little short, which means you can use one large photo; (3) and I’m submitting two photos you can choose from that will best fit the space.

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CC1a mixed-group4.jpg: Heather R. Kyles, Miles Stewart, Kylee S. Remington and Carmay Claiborne are among the cast members of “mixed” at Boll Family YMCA. Photo: Mona Czeszewski

CC1b mixed_groupall.jpg: Racism, diversity and acceptance are among the themes addressed in “mixed” at Detroit’s Boll Family YMCA. Photo: Mona Czeszewski

George Productions, LLC at Boll Family YMCA, 1401 Broadway, Detroit. Fri.-Sun., through March 11. Tickets: $25. For information: 313-309-9622 or

If there’s one sure way to stop a party conversation dead in its tracks, it’s using the word “racism” in a sentence.
It’s not that no one has an opinion on the subject; rather, it’s that EVERYONE has one – and emotions often get the best of us as we try to navigate through the topic’s many minefields. So rather than have an open and intellectually honest discussion about it, we either bog ourselves down with the blame game and get nowhere – except really angry or frustrated with one another – or we simply excuse ourselves and look for safer conversation.
One haven for serious debate on controversial subjects has long been the theater. After all, in the days of olde – that is, centuries before daily newspapers, FOX-TV and Web casting – average citizens got much of their news and gossip from traveling thespians who tackled the burning issues of their day – much to the chagrin of many a king and bishop.
That tradition still holds true today. Recent Broadway and off-Broadway plays have challenged the Iraq war and chastised a church that ignored its pedophile priests, while many of our local improv troupes have found success poking fun at the peccadilloes of our homegrown politicians.
And now there’s actress Jennifer George. A graduate of Wayne State University’s theater program, a shocking encounter while working on campus during the first Gulf War not only changed her life forever, it also provided her with a unique opportunity to use her skills and training to educate others.
Born of a Chaldean father and a mother whose ancestors were from Poland, Ireland and Scotland, the European-looking George embraced her Middle Eastern heritage after a woman – unaware of George’s mixed ethnic background – proclaimed her hate towards all Iraqis on the WSU campus.
George was stunned, of course. But rather than fuss and fume and hate, George channeled her anger into a much more positive and productive effort. The result is “mixed,” a thought-provoking two-hour theater piece George wrote, produced and directed that’s onstage at Detroit’s Boll Family YMCA through March 11.
And what an aptly titled production this is!
Not a play in the traditional sense – there’s no linear storyline that drives the piece – “mixed” explores racism and cultural identity through a series of mostly unconnected monologues and short scenes. The mix of topics addressed range from interracial marriage and prejudice to acceptance and miscegenation.
The three-act program is at its best when the fledgling playwright uses one-person monologues to dig deeply into the personal tragedies of racism.
In “James,” a young black man learns his mother didn’t die in a traffic accident 15 years earlier as he’d been told by his family, but that she’s alive – and white. Powerfully played by Henri Franklin, a furious yet happy James struggles to make sense of two things: why did she abandon him, and why did everyone lie to him about it?
In “Jennifer,” an autobiographical piece, actress Kylee S. Remington relates George’s experiences as “the little half-breed” – a child torn between two different cultures.
The importance of a father in a young boy’s life is the subject of “Nathan.” Abandoned by his black father but raised with much love by his white mother, Nathan urges all men to “step up to the plate” when they father a child. It’s a heartfelt performance by Miles Stewart that also cautions young girls to stop making babies with every guy that comes along, thereby continuing the cycle of fatherless children.
Another highlight is the three-part story that unfolds at the beginning of each act. Set in the South after the Civic War, “Generations of Women” reveals the long, sad secret behind why a loving grandmother, Roberta (Ann Ledbetter), has been raising her granddaughter, May (Victoria Army), instead of May’s mother, Elizabeth (Naytarsha Berry). Each actress finds and delivers the emotional underpinnings of her character, but it is Berry who is especially impressive – most notably in the powerful second act segment.
Not as successful are a handful of scenes that shed no new light on long-familiar situations. That’s especially true of a three-part segment in Act 2 on interracial dating and marriage that contains clichéd dialogue more suitable for an “After School Special” – or a very special episode of “The Jeffersons” – than a serious theater piece. And two closing monologues – “Lecture on Diversity” and “Modern May Speaks” – might not build the bridges or stimulate the open and honest conversation about race and diversity that the playwright believes they will.
The playwright might also want to reconsider her script’s basic construction: Inserting two 15-minute intermissions into a production that runs only one-hour fifty-five minutes – including the intermissions – does not serve the show well. (The first intermission comes only 25 minutes into the show, the earliness of which surprised the audience on opening night.)
George – now wearing the director’s hat – moves her characters about the stage quite well. Most creative – and thematic – is the “mixing up” of the ensemble players as they make each entrance.
One must question, though, the director’s decision to cast a black man in the role of a white father upset about his daughter’s engagement to a black man. Laughter resulted once the audience recognized the absurdity of the situation, which detracted from the all-important lesson the playwright was trying to teach.

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