Tatiana Williams in Mixed Blood Theatre’s production of Daughters of Africa. Mixed Blood production photo

Quote of the Day: A piano is a drum with wings. part of poem used in the opening of Daughters of Africa, a one woman show (with many voices) produced by Mixed Blood theatre of Minneapolis, and touring throughout the upper Midwest. My colleagues in the Twin Cities Theatre Bloggers group and I are on the lookout for diversity in theatrical productions, in the metro and throughout our region. It’s going on five years now since I’ve been writing reviews for productions in the metro and where I live in the Brainerd lakes area. Of all the performances I’ve seen from grand productions at the Guthrie theatre to small town community theater, and other small cast shows, plays I’ve seen in the past, and those yet to be seen, any of them will be hard pressed to top the performance, storytelling, and experience of watching Tatiana Williams perform the multi-layered, diverse women of African American history on the stage at Central Lakes College yesterday. Playwright Syl Jones uses the device of flying in an airplane, a flight through history, to tell the story of remarkable women of African decent who showed us all what courage, moxie, brains, beauty, music, and style can accomplish. The turbulence in flight are caused by the turmoil in history when there was slavery, the Civil War, KKK, assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to name a few. Williams portrays so many outstanding women from Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, C.J. Walker (first African American entrepreneur and millionaire) Serena Williams, and Michelle Obama. She croons the raspy blues of Billie Holiday in a version of Strange Fruit that sends chills down your body. She gives us Lena Horne, Oprah Winfrey, Queen Latifa, and that soul stirring rhythm of Aretha Franklin (Oh, Freedom!) that even got us stiff Northerners to clap our hands. 

In my own attempts to add diversity to my viewing and reviewing, I had hopes of getting to a production at Mixed Blood Theatre this year. Lucky for me, and the other audience members at CLC, Mixed Blood came to us. This current production of Daughters of Africa is touring the Midwest through the end of February, 2016, and has been since 1992. In the discussion after the performance yesterday, Tatiana told us that this show would be undergoing a reconstruction after this season. One of the audience members asked if they would be including some of the current women, particularly those of Somalia descent, and the turbulence facing Americans of all cultural backgrounds today. Yes, it will. Although, it must have had some revisions since Syl Jones first wrote it because it did include Serena Williams and Michelle Obama and her role as the first African American First Lady. 

Since this is a one woman show, Tatiana makes quick costume and character changes, usually with a duck behind the airline chair that is the only set piece besides a subtley painted white backdrop. She performs to a recording of the sound effects and accompaniment for many of the songs. Although, she does sing a few A Capella, with a gorgeous voice. Basically, Tatiana Williams can do it all, move smoothly in and out of various characters, change costume with a shawl, scarf, or by simply holding a tennis ball (Serena Williams) or donning a string of pearls (Michelle Obama). She moved her body with the grace of a dancer, scrunched up like an old woman, and moved her shoulders, head and mouth to give us Billie Holiday, a character she said she loved playing but needed to do much research and character work to do well. 

If Daughters of Africa is playing anywhere near where you live, go. It is a performance that will move you and stick with you for years to come. The history of Africa American women is the history of all women, and all Americans. “If you don’t know your history, you can’t know where you’re going,” said Tatiana Williams. Thank you, Syl Jones, for writing this remarkable play. Thank you, Tatiana Williams, for portraying all those characters in such a full bodied YES, and thank you CLC for your Cultural Arts Series and bringing this play to our community.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Who are some of the African American women that you admire?