Actress Kimberlee Monroe, playwright Louise Mike and Director Ward Nixon.  

 *“Arye’” a Hadley Players winter  production,  featured at the Harlem School of the Arts,  located at 647 St. Nicholas   Avenue (off 142nd   Street) in Manhattan, end on March 11th.  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 “Arye’,” a play written by actress Louise Mike.  Ms. Mike’s play takes the viewer through 3 generations of women, all telling the familial tale of the warrior Arye’.   Arye’ 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, Arye’, 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.

Photo by Andrin Bosshart

Kimberlee Monroe as the African grandmother and griot. Photos by Andrin Bossheart

Via the play “Arye’,” 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.

Ms. Monroe as Arye’s slave daughter

Through a simple change of costume we are transported to a plantation wherein the daughter of Arye’ continues the tale of his life, introducing the lives of Arye’’s children under the rigors of slavery.  Audiences feel the pride Arye’ 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 Arye’.  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.  Assuring the ancient African tradition of respecting one another, love of the family, our survival and the truth about our greatness is not forgotten.  Through each scene, it was also revealed, that throughout each time period, the women maintained their gift of healing.  They became strong and more independent, self-assured in the beauty of their Africanism, no matter their kaleidoscope of hue.

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.  An AUDELCO award nominee, she has performed for the St. Louis Black Repertory Theatre, at the Shadowbox, and for the Billie Holiday Theatre in their production of “Steal Away.”

The Hadley Players will finish out their play season with “This Way Forward,” written by Hadley Player founder, Gertrude Jeannette.  “This Way Forward,” is slated to run from May 15 – May 27, 2012.

“Arye’” is stage managed by Caitlin Elizabeth Joy; Costumes by K’Ran Bridges, sound/music/lyrics by L.A. Lucas, lighting is by Derrick Minter.  Arye’ runs Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Single tickets are: $20.00, $15.00 for seniors, students or a group of five, $30.00 for a pair and $8.00 for children under 12.  For reservations call 646-323-0223.

I recommend this play highly.  Go see it. You will be glad you did.