By Deardra Shuler
Photo credit: Ali Rahman
Tucked away in the basement of 207 West 133rd Street is the Hadley Players Theatre. The theater founded by the venerable actress, playwright, and producer Gertrude Jeannette in 1979, has seen its share of community plays; theatrical productions, which offer Harlem neighborhoods an opportunity to experience the best of its culture for reasonable prices. Hadley Players latest offering The Diva and the Rapper, directed by Ms. Jeannette, runs until March, 2006.
There is much to admire about the play which was formerly showcased in late 2005. Its cast actually boasts two sets of performers for each role. Sunday afternoon, Marvel Allen, gave a superb performance in the role of Bella (the Diva) which is also played by Val Tee.
I have been in the arts a long time. Ive worked with artists like Regina Bell, Will Downing, and Luther Vandross. I am excited about playing Bella. Ive worked with some incredible divas like Patti Labelle and Nancy Wilson so Ive seen them in action. I am from the 70s era so I can identify with the play in terms of where the new generation is coming from, said Marvel. There is a difference between young artists of today and older performers. I dont think young artists have yet to do their homework, nor know the history of music and the artists who paved the way for them. They havent paid their dues yet remarked Allen. This play teaches acceptance. The rapper learns she doesnt know as much as she thinks she does and the Diva softens towards her and comes to see her as a daughter.
Staxx Cordero was wonderful as the 19 year old BVD/the Rapper, also played by Kashana Green. I think the character I play comes to see that Bella who represents the older generation has a lot to offer. She has experience and thus deserves respect. Its important that audiences get the message that both generations can come together if only they open up the lines of communication between them, remarked Cordero who is presently working on a mixed tape entitled The Harlem Barbie Dolls. Ward Nixon plays the cleaver Harvey, the agent/manager, whose insight, yet roguish ways give him the ability to both charm, and repel, as well as manipulate Bella and BVD into reluctantly working together. Jim Willis is also cast in the role of Harvey. I love portraying Harvey Hamilton, claimed Ward enthusiastically. Harvey is a man who has a heart but hes a businessman who is trying to bring his friend and client, Bella Leech, and the young up and coming, rapper BVD together because he sees where he can boast Bellas career as well as expand the rappers career. Of course, he also realizes the collaboration will net money for him said Nixon, who has been in several Hadley Theatre productions. Lateefah Abdul-Jabbar gives life to the role of Hyacinth, the irrepressible West Indian companion to Bella, whose fierce loyalty to Bella does not blind her to all sides of the issue. She is the anchor that keeps the warring ladies from killing one another until they learn the tie that binds them is more similar than dissimilar. C.C. Kelly also plays Hyacinth. I am similar to my character, claimed Lateefah. The cast talked about the characters. I studied Hyacinth and really began to think like her, said Lateefah, who formerly ran her own creative dance theatre. Lateefah studied acting at the New Heritage Theatre.
If art mirrors reality than this play reflects a mirrored image highly insightful of the generation gap as it plays out throughout the ages. The play written by playwright, Veona Thomas, highlights the great divide between youth and their elders which oftentimes seems unfathomable. However, Ms. Thomas, who is renowned for her storytelling ability, having written such hit plays as Nzingas Children and Heaven Sent (which garnered an AUDELCO nomination), manages to find a way to breach the gap through humor, pathos, music and heart. Mss. Allen and Cordero have a true simpatico which allows them to bring their characters to life. They entertain the audience with their considerable singing chops while enabling theatergoers to recognize both the tension and harmonic resonance that plays out between the characters.
The Diva has been there, done that and tries to hold onto her diminishing career and patience in order to bestow wisdom unto the young Rapper BVD whose youthful exuberance causes her to label herself a diva long before shes earned the right.. Experienced diva and young diva scream, slap, insult, laugh, cry, sulk, comfort, and harmonize themselves into forming a beneficial and meaningful relationship. This is the tale of a love story between two women of enormous talent who try to find their way through the maze, disappointments and heartbreak of life and the music business. This story is not a romantic saga of love, but a human story that teaches each woman that one does not need to be polarized in life; whether via a musical genre or a mindset. The play proves that through love, faith, communication, respect, and patience any gap can be bridged. The Diva learns to let go of the past in order to find the future and the Rapper learns that unless one knows the past they cannot truly define their future.
Black Theatre is rapidly diminishing. It cannot survive unless the community and lovers of art support it. African American Community theater provides education, history, and entertainment. Dont let its light go out. Through your support, attendance, and donations, performers can keep Black culture alive. What do we value if we do not reach out to save that which highlights our glory, our struggles, and our successes as played out in the venues of art? If we allow our art to die, then, we lose our essence and the very best part of ourselves. Go out and support The Diva and the Rapper. It does not just mirror life through a glass darkly it mirrors life as it is.
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