Perri Gaffney*Playwright, author and performer Perri Gaffney kept this writer captivated by her one-woman-play which officially opened on Sunday, February 28th.

“The Resurrection of Alice,” a tale emphasizing the forgotten tradition of arranged marriages practiced by Africans Americans in bygone days, was a H.A.D.L.E.Y Players offering.  

Held at the Harlem School of the Arts, located at 647 St. Nicholas Avenue in Manhattan, the production runs until March 28, 2010.

Based on a true story, Gaffney paints the portrait of young Alice born in the back woods of Smedley, South Carolina in the 1930s.  Dirt poor, the family consisting of Alice, her sister Bertha, and twin brothers Samuel and Daniel shivered alongside their parents in a crude shack fortified by stuffed papers used to insulate the family against the elements.  

Scratching for food, the family subsisted daily on oatmeal and rags soaked in sugar water.  An application country folks called rag tits.  Except Alice’s family couldn’t afford sugar so sucked on the rag tits only pretending it was sweet.  This sparse lifestyle went on until wealthy old Mr. Tucker who owned the community Mill, hired her parents.  

The elderly Mr. Tucker showed the family particular kindness, giving them his hand-me-downs and cast off clothing.  After noting Alice’s fondness for books, old man Tucker even made certain Alice went to school; thus, making her the first in her family to receive an education.   

Alice was a fast learner excelling in her studies. This brought her to the attention of Isaac (another bright student), and her teacher Miss Johnson who encouraged Alice to utilize her intelligence so she could break free of Smedley and do something important with her life.

Inspired by Isaac and Ms. Johnson, Alice was on the fast track to college and a budding relationship with Isaac, when her entire life was scuttled by her parents who informed her she would not be going to college even though Alice had won a scholarship.  They informed her she was betrothed to Mr. Tucker via a secret engagement arranged since Mr. Tucker first laid eyes on Alice at age 7.  Apparently, her parents employment and the family’s improved circumstances were contingent upon Alice marrying Mr. Tucker when she came of age.  Alice was shocked to find out that her marriage to Mr. Tucker was to take place 2 weeks after her high school graduation.  The thought of marrying a man old enough to be her grandfather disgusted Alice.  However, she knew that if she didn’t marry Tucker things would not go well for her family. Alice’s heart sunk. Sacrifices had to be made. Unfortunately, neither her tears, outrage or prayers thwarted Alice’s impending destiny.

Via Ms. Gaffney’s outstanding performance the audience is exposed to Alice’s life, her turbulent marriage to Mr. Tucker, her children and eventual emancipation.  The storyline was occasionally hard to follow since Gaffney periodically relied upon flashbacks.  Nevertheless, Gaffney takes the viewer through 3 different locales as we witness Alice’s departure from Smedley to her exposure to city life and eventual move to and happy life in Arizona.  Perri does this by moving effortlessly through decades and between masculine and feminine characters.  Bringing each character to life — making each personality individual, human and sympathetic.

Although, this reviewer was aware of the tradition of arranged marriages in Africa, I was unfamiliar with the tradition of arranged marriages as it affected black people in America even up until the 1950s. This tradition as it relates to European history was not unknown since throughout European history, marriage was more or less a business agreement between two families who arranged the marriages of their children. Based on this tradition, romantic love and/or mutual affection were not considered essential. Although, financial aspects of marriage vary between cultures and have changed over time, in some cultures, dowries and bride prices continue to be required.  Even up until 19th century America, financial arrangements were made by parents or a matchmaker without consideration to the feelings of the young bride since women were oftentimes viewed as chattel and expected to be subservient to the husband. While some cultures continue the practice of arranged marriages to date, child marriages are outlawed.

Perri Gaffney has appeared on stage in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Fences,” “Music Man” and “Death and the King’s Horseman.”  Her TV credits include: Nurse Bentley in As the World Turns, Law & Order and Law & Order: Special Victims. On film, she starred in “Paving the Way,” “Fake Preacher” and “Cops, Crooks and Banana Creme Pies.”

Directed by Talvin Wilkes and Dwight Smith in NY, The Resurrection of Alice opened officially on February 28th. Additional weekend performances include: March 5-7, March 12-14 and March 19-21. Performance times are Fridays & Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2:30 PM. Interested parties can purchase tickets online at www.ticketannex.com, call (866) 388-4-tix or (866) 388-4849. For additional information call 212-368-9314 or visit www.hadleyplayers.com.