Where We Stand is a gem of a show. It sparkles from every direction you shine a light on it. Whether it is on playwright Donnetta Lavinia Grays’ lyrical yet powerful writing style, director Tamilla Woodard’s inclusive and imaginative staging, Grays’ compelling and charismatic stage presence in this one-person show, or the thoughtful and absorbing questions the play poses, there is a glow from every facet the light hits.
There is certainly nothing revolutionary about the basic plot device in Where We Stand. In fact, it’s been done for millennia from Faust to Damn Yankees. In her work, Grays seeds a more direct reference to the legend of blues great Robert Johnson meeting the devil at the crossroads. The twist here which makes it thought-provoking and hard to condemn, is the circular nature of the wrong being righted by this particular pact.
Man (Donnetta Lavinia Grays - she specifies in the notes to the play that this character is gender neutral and is to be played by anybody with a body), is a poor outcast who lives on the edge of town and toils fruitlessly day in and day out on the rocky soil of the land left to them (using the gender neutral them/their pronouns) by their mother, and lives in the tumbled-down shack they inherited. They are, as they put it “a milestone” that marks a spot on the road into and out of town. Nobody sees them or speaks to them. So, when a well-dressed Stranger appears and talks to Man like a friend, and really sees them and understands them, it is no wonder that the glory of that feeling is something they want to hold onto. They aren’t interested in prosperity or easy money, it is when the Stranger offers him the ability to give that to his community and become a respected part of them, that Man is tempted.
What makes this WP Theater and Baltimore Center Stage co-production of Where We Stand an unmissable event at the McGinn/Cazale Theater is Donnetta Lavinia Grays’ performance. She is not only an incredibly talented actor playing a myriad of roles distinctly and easily from moment to moment without missing a beat, but she is mesmerizing. She has a Pied Piper quality about her that had a hip, New York City, seen everything, Off-Broadway audience breathlessly doing everything she indicated without words. This included humming, singing, clapping their hands, shaking hands, and hanging on every word as she ran up and down the audience, across the stage and back again. She looked audience members in the eye and pointed to them as she ascribed words and characters to them. She beamed at us when we did as she wanted us to without asking. I felt honored when she took my hand in both of hers and smiled at me as she was singing and shook it.
At the end of Where We Stand the audience as the townspeople are asked to vote on Man’s fate. The choice is justice or mercy. It makes you think.
(Photo by Joan Marcus)