Women’s History Month tailing behind Black History Month finds the Hadley Players winter production and contribution of “Aryè,” featured at the Harlem School of the Arts, located at 647 St. Nicholas Avenue (off 142nd Street) in Manhattan, ended March 11.
I wish it could run longer so that everyone can see this play and feel the pride, joy and sorrow of a family as it existed in Africa, endured slavery in America and later American apartheid, only to prevail in current time, remembering its history and family tradition.
Although I have reviewed several plays, I cannot recall in some time feeling the excitement I felt after viewing “Aryè,” a play written by actress Louise Mike. Ms. Mike’s play takes the viewer through three generations of women, all telling the familial tale of the warrior Aryè. Aryè was a proud son of Africa, strong and vital, a leader who was raised by his culture and mother to respect women, nature, family, tradition, and his God.
This play is a true light in the darkness and performed with warmth, passion and great skill by actress Kimberlee Monroe, who does a superb job depicting each generation of woman: grandmother, mother and daughter within their historic era. The performance is uplifting in spirit and truly a play for the heart.
Ms. Monroe carries her audience back to Africa through the grandmother who serves as a griot since it is through her, we come to know her son, Aryè, and along the way get to know her as well. She was the healer in the family as was her mother. She knew the ways of the land and of nature and how the birds were the foretellers of death. We feel the link to our ancestors in Africa and learn of a people who understood the earth’s rhythms, and their soul connection with the animals, the land, and nature. In fact, so connected were they that oftentimes it was by observing nature and taking heed of nature’s warnings, that Africans saved their own lives.
Via the play “Aryè,” viewers are reminded of a time when we as a people combined our forces and worked together as one, sharing what we had with one another, so that no one went without. And, through this tradition of unselfishness our ancestors built a strong and united community. It was a time when men hunted and provided for the family, took pride in their women and led with strength and purpose. Mates were equal partners. The women cared for the home, the sick and wounded, and even became warriors if need be, putting the family community survival first and foremost. Ms. Monroe weaves the fabric of this lifestyle with such agility that one doesn’t even need to close their eyes to be taken back as witness to our ancestral past.
Through a simple change of costume we are transported to a plantation wherein the daughter of Aryè continues the tale of his life, introducing the lives of Aryè’s children under the rigors of slavery. Audiences feel the pride Aryè held, the suffering he endured, having to take on a chained life after having lived a free life in Africa. We realize the cruelty of having to endure another man’s rule, Will and heartlessness, yet find a way to live throughout it all and still believe in God. Still hope, still rise. This play shows us that although at times we falter we have always found a way to go on.
The director, Ward Nixon, who also did the set designs, made each time period realistic. The symbolism of the tree and flowers was a brilliant indicative of the branches of family and the blossoming of each lifetime that continued the tradition of keeping Mother Africa alive. Through Ward’s efforts and that of everyone involved in this production, the line of African American descent is brought to life. Via the women storytellers in this play, each generation passes down an enlightened culture via the male line of Aryè. In so doing, the importance of knowing who we are as a nation and people and the origins of our beginnings, is instilled in each child inculcating a common bond.
There is something we as a people of color here in America and throughout the Diaspora need to remind ourselves of in modern day — That is, the line of Africa exists in each one of us and should not be negated, disrespected or discarded because others malign us and try to instill in us a sense of self-revulsion. We are not inferior because others say so, nor are we powerless. Only by ingesting the rhetoric and condemnation of the fearing others, have some among us swallowed the negative programming hate-filled groups systematically enforce. Let’s stop the violence toward one another, and lack of appreciation of our race. Attempting to be a mirrored reflection of Euro-culture only brings about the extinction of our own. Think about it!
Kimberlee Monroe is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and has performed with the Hadley Players in the productions “Nobody Knows Where They Was” and “The Winter View.” She appeared in Layon Gray’s award winning play “All American Girls,” about a team of African American women baseball players set in the 1940s.