Twin Cities’ own emerging Ambiance Theatre Company sprouts “The Garden” a play that reverberates the centuries-long narrative of Black women in America.
Directed by 23-year-old Eshay Brantley, “The Garden” is inspired by the enduring works of renowned writers, Ntozake Shange, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker.
Boasting not just one playwright, “The Garden” is an amalgamation of the experiences of the six young women that make up the play. The script and movements are comprised of original pieces submitted by each of the women and includes provocatively transparent poetry, prose, movement, dance, lyricism and dramatic technique.
Together, the women express the prism of human experience from the vantage point of Black women; uplifting the themes of young motherhood, mother-daughter relationships, sexuality, love, loss, hurt, anger and healing.
“It’s very important that we remind people that we feel, just like everybody else.” Brantley explains. And like everybody else, “The Garden” inhales and exhales, ebbs and flows in the relevance of time.
With reference to SZA, along with the flavorful contributions of an all-millennial ensemble (the women’s ages range from 23 to 28), “The Garden,“ while inspired by the Black literary canon, can also be classified as a contemporary depiction of Black womanhood through art.
Still and all, it remains, a story that Black women of all generations have touched in some way, shape or form. “This is for Black women. This is for you to feel and see your diary come to life and be okay with everything you have put in there. All the pain you’ve had and all the triumph you’ve had,” says Rayna Bell, ensemble member and dancer.
Bell is responsible for much of the dance witnessed in “The Garden“ along with fellow ensemble member Averie Mitchell-Brown.
Self-taught, Bell graciously attributes her passion for dance to her mentor, local Arts Educator and Choreographer Tamiko French; she also gives mention to her aunt. “When I was two, I went to my aunt’s house, and she taught me how to shake ass,” she says with a laugh.
“As a dancer, I’d like to think I contribute some lightheartedness to the show, and movement,” says Mitchell-Brown.
Like “for colored girls,” poetic prose makes up much of “The Garden”’s script. “I came in as a writer and as a poet. Not so much as an actor, but as a storyteller. I came into this, for myself as a good ‘mourning’. Because there was just a lot that I put into my words and into my truth. That is what I brought into this space,” says ensemble member Whitney Blount-Smith.
Lyricism is another unique component that makes up “The Garden.” During the play, poet and MC, Se’Anna Johnson, jabs the audience with her formidable flow, reminiscent of influences from the early ’90s hip hop scene. “One of the first raps I ever learned was Queen Latifah’s ‘Wrath of My Madness’,” she recalls.
In the play, her poetry is transformed into shared character dialogue, representing the through-line of each Black woman’s narrative, on and off the stage. Brantley and Ambiance Theatre’s Artistic Director, Atlese Robinson, are contributing poets and writers as well.
Because the script is crafted entirely from the experiences and lessons uprooted from the women that make up the ensemble—the play also conveys a validation to other women and girls that come to see the play. “Everyone [is in this play]; her light gives me permission to shine too. No one should run from their light, that is the thing that will guide you through your darkest of days. You need that,” Robinson explains.
There is much to glean from “The Garden,” but also a harvest specifically intended for fellow black sisters.
“[‘The Garden’] is not for black women that are moms, black women that are in relationships, black women that are on the path to Christ. It’s for black women, period. Outside of everything that you have to do today, it’s that bath that you take for you [and say] I’m going to let all of this water come over my whole body. That’s what I want this play to be,” says Brantley.
“The Garden” runs November 14-16, 7:30 pm, at the Playwright Center, located at 2301 E. Franklin Ave. in Minneapolis. For tickets, go here.
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