*The avant garde play “The Task” directed by Gabrielle L. Kurlander and starring Peyton Coles, Keldrick Crowder, Christalabelsay Elian, Ava Jenkins, Fulton C. Hodges, Gabriella Lake, Sylenia Lewis, Kipp Lyle, John Rankin and Sheryl Williams is presently being featured at the Castillo Theater, located at 543 West 42nd Street in Manhattan. The production runs until February 21, 2010.
It helps to understand the complex mind of German playwright Heiner Muller to get a glimpse into the complexity of “The Task.”
Initially, I thought what the heck is this? But as I pondered it, I saw wherein the play is a thinking man’s play because its layered and ladened with hidden messages that engender the surreal.
A dramatist, poet, writer, essayist and theater director, Muller was a member of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany and member of the German Writer’s Association.
He was considered one of the more prominent and important dramatist in Germany until he fell out of favor with the East German State for writing a play that criticized governmental policies. However, no sooner did East Germany abandon Muller that he became the darling of West Germany and shortly thereafter garnered international fame.
One could compare Muller’s writing to a Pablo Picasso painting since both are abstract in scope. Muller’s work could be described as a montage dramaturg, wherein the playwright blurs the reality level of his characters and events, vacillating between reality and dream state. The Task oft times appears to move between time and space moving away from its time period of 17th century Jamaica and jumping into what appeared to be 21st century America. Or it could be any big city wherein the viewer is exposed all at once and at the same time to the need of 17th century slaves to revolt against their conditions — to the need for 21st century wage slaves to revolt against their own brand of enslavement. The playwright strokes the imagination of the viewer in this musical which is comprised of 20 different songs and varied dance numbers.
This is a play that cannot be taken at face value. The musical numbers and dance sequences were superb. Singers Ava Jenkins and Sylenia Lewis are marvelous singers. The black cast members play multiple roles, switching back and forth, oftentimes between color lines. This did call for some confusion since those playing the white roles did not take on the characteristic, dialect or mannerisms of white people. Nor did they wear a white mask or white face to help the audience delineate. Although, there was a scene where the white women chorus donned blonde wigs.
“The Task” displays the brutality of slavery centering around 3 revolutionaries who go to Jamaica to start a revolution. The contradictions within this play is shown via the fact that one of the revolutionaries Debuisson (Keldrick Crowder) is himself a wealthy slave holder, who joins with a poor white peasant Galloudec ( (Peyton Coles) and Sassapotas (John Rankin) a freed slave to perform the task of feeding rebellion and stirring up a revolution by the slaves to break the yoke of slavery. The twists and turns of this play leads the audience down a kaleidescope of racial tensions, despair, hateful mindsets, bias attitudes, redemption, revenge, hope, justice and ultimate betrayal.
“The play is about the wearing of masks. I was looking for lines to be blurred by casting black actors in white specific roles. There is something particularly insightful that you get when somebody performs the other. Black actors bring something to the performance of a white role that a white actor cant bring or wont bring because black actors are able to see things about who white people are that white people cant see themselves and vice versa. Our tradition at the Castillo Theater and the All Stars Project is that we believe in the experience of the other as being fundamental to the understanding of oneself. Sometimes I think its best just to let performance shine through,” stated Gabrielle L. Kurlander the director of “The Task.”
“I think its a real problem there aren’t enough jobs for black actors or actors of color. We don’t believe in the natural privilege of white people in the theater. That’s racist. The Castillo Theater and the All Stars Project want to be a small part of creating a new economic reality so there is greater opportunity for black actors and greater equality overall for all actors and actors of color in general. When people ask” “Why did you do the play with a black cast?” I reply “Why wouldn’t you do it with a black cast?” explained Gabrielle “Who says that the assumption has to be that the natural color is white, even if the playwright writes the role to be white specific. I think in “The Task” specifically, a black cast has a better understanding about the brutality of slavery, white privilege, and the betrayal of hope. They have an understanding of these things having experienced these things in America themselves,” continued Ms. Kurlander, who is the CEO of the All Stars Project.
The All Stars Project works with minority actors and youth using performance to promote human development and growth. The All Stars Project promotes after school programs for inner city youth which consists of the Youth Theatre, the All Stars Talent Show Network and working with the business community and teenagers via the Development School for Youth which trains children in leadership skills using a performance approach. The All Stars Project also has a program entitled Operation Conversation Cops and Kids which addresses the relations between police officers and young people.
“The Task” set was designed by Joseph Spirito with costumes by Emilie Charlotte. Interested parties can purchase tickets by calling 212-941-1234 or by going online at www.allstars.org.