Black Woman in Deep Water: Sophie's Choice meets Freedom
Written and performed by: Makena Hammond
Directed by: Jane Fleiss Brogger
Theatre: The Actors Company in the “Let Live Theatre”
**In my reviews I like to start off by comparing the productions with other work. I struggled a lot finding with this play because I honestly haven’t seen enough shows like this. After the show Hammond came out to thank us for attending and helping support under-represented voices. Stories like this deserve to be heard and seen.**
Sophie's Choice: Based on the real-life story of Margaret Garner, BWiDW tells her experiences of escaping enslavement with her children over the frozen Ohio River. Hammond puts in a sincere performance of a woman burdened with unfathomable circumstances that are painfully true.
Freedom: It is not a well-known film but interestingly shares a somewhat similar way of storytelling by presenting both the life of a family escaping slavery and the story of their African ancestor being forced away from their homeland. There is a major difference in BWiDW however that the African ancestor is shown to be fully rooted in their home. We get to be immersed in the culture of this powerful and beautiful African woman which makes it all the more heart breaking when we see their descendent living in one of history's worst atrocities.
Makena Hammond, an AADA and soon to be graduating Stella Adler student, has written, produced and starred in a profound story, expertly directed by Jane Fleiss. In the show, Hammond portrays three different voices: we begin with a Yoruban (An ethnic group in West Africa) tribeswoman. Hammond enters a dimly blue lit stage with effortless power and grace. Immediately commanding our attention, she then walks into the minimal centre lighting and we see all the colors appear from this intensely vibrant African dress. It is impossible not to be engaged by Hammond's undeniable presence. She begins talking intimately as the tribeswoman to the audience about her culture and the story of the Yoruban water goddess Yemoja. This is done in an engaging manner, offering some light comedy and she candidly gets the audience to call and respond to African words. One short scene change later, we are now given insight into the story of Margaret Garner as goes up against all odds trying to free her children from a life of slavery. One moment in particular that touched me was she plays a "game" with her children that they are all invisible as long as they are silent.
Hammond makes great use of her minimal set and props, effortlessly transporting us from a tribal village to a southern plantation, to the frozen river itself. The use of her African clothing gradually being removed from this persecuted African American woman made me think of a person being stripped of their roots.
As we reached the end of the show I had hoped that we would perhaps be transported to a modern day descendant of the two characters but regardless, Hammond closed off the show well. It is clear that Hammond is a powerhouse talent. She has capably created the perfect vehicle to show off her outstanding range whilst always keeping a layer of truth to her performance.
This show was a smash hit at the Hollywood fringe, winning several awards (best solo show, Hollywood Encore Producers Award, Top of Fringe Award, Pick of the Fringe Award, Splash Solo Award, Loose Change Award)
There is another performance at the Namba Performing Arts Space in Ventura on the 18th of October and I implore you to go. I said this at the start, and I’ll say it at the end, stories like this deserve to be heard and seen.