By Davontae Pariani
A prison chapel became an effective platform for incarcerated men to address social justice issues. The Oct. 21 performances, called Parallel Plays, were inspired by themes such as power, oppression, choice, forgiveness, isolation and hope found in William Shakespeare’s As You Like It and The Tempest, as well as in their own lives.
“A lot of social-economic issues were being discussed more than (ever) before,” said the sponsor of Marin Shakespeare at San Quentin, Lesley Currier. “Lots of really complex ideas that made us think as well as feel.”
In What Would You Do? Andrew Wadsworth posed the question of whether to tell the police the truth or to remain quiet and consequently take the rap for somebody else’s crime. Wadsworth played Drew, a parolee who served 20 years then goes back to his old neighborhood against his mother’s (Wanda Sabir of the San Francisco Bay View) advice.
“Don’t go back to that old neighborhood. Leave the dead to bury the dead,” warned Sabir.
Drew went to confront Twist (Jessie James), a childhood friend who never visited him in prison. Twist gave gifts, like $20,000 in cash, jewelry and a Mercedes in an effort to convince Drew to join him in the drug trade. Drew named all the loved ones who fell victim to the streets and said he wouldn’t join, just as a police officer pulled them over. Twist took off running, leaving Drew behind with a gun, causing Drew to go straight back to jail.
The Judge (Richie Morris) gave Drew a chance to tell whose gun it was. What would you do? Drew asked. After contemplating, Drew said, “It was mine” and was sentenced to 25 to life under California’s Three Strikes Law.
Later Jessie James’ piece, Breaking News, received a standing ovation.
James performed a rap song about a kidnapped little girl who escaped after 10 years. While he was performing, cast members acted out what he rapped about, creating an artistic balance between the visual and audio aspects of Breaking News.
Jessie said he was inspired to speak up about the tragedy because he had continually seen her story in the news.
“I felt like this (Breaking News) really was a gift from God. Hopefully it touches somebody,” said James.
Address the Nation by Antwan “Banks” Williams and Kneel With Me by LeMar “Maverick” Harrison dealt with the shooting of unarmed minorities by police officers. Banks played the role of the President addressing the nation through spoken word. “We are not free. We are not captives. We are not Black. We are not White. We are not rich. We are not poor. We are simply human.”
As Banks left the podium, a “theatrical” gunshot fired. All the cast on the stage hit the floor, transitioning smoothly into Maverick’s piece. Wearing a red seven on his T-shirt in solidarity with 49er’s Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, he rapped, “Only way to win this war is to kneel with one another.”
Cast members sang the chorus, “Please won’t you kneel with me, every color every creed; united we will stand because love is all we need.”
Banks added, “With my hands up, you shoot me, record it, make a movie. Kaepernick I salute you.”
A month ago, Banks watched the news and saw Kaepernick receiving backlash for protesting. It made him want to utilize this platform to address these particular issues.
“Everybody knows how society works due to social media, but it’s rare that we use that as a platform for social changes,” said Banks. “It’s our obligation to speak about issues and to not do so is where the real tragedy comes from.”
Maurice “Reese” Reed composed several skits that addressed everything from bullying and abuse at home to peer pressure.
“We’re more than just criminals; we’re people,” said Reed. “This is another form of giving back for us. Instead of hurting people, this is an opportunity for us to help people. Even if we only touch one person it’s all worth it.”
Ronell “Rauch” Draper’s play Koto-Jido was a tale about an orphan, who just wanted love.
“I’m really impressed with Ronell’s pieces,” said Currier. “For the last two years, he’s been a spokesman for kids who grew up in the foster care system.”
Volunteer Lalis Vasquez added, “That’s the beauty of the program, that the guys write their own pieces and direct their own pieces.” She co-directed and acted in the plays.
In Essence of Forgiveness, Richie Morris said, “There is no love without forgiveness, and a world without love isn’t worth living in.”
Rodney “RC” Capell’s Many Mini Me’s displayed the various character traits vying for control over him, including Addiction, Truth and others like Krazy, played by Nythell “Nate” Collins.
Acting is therapeutic, said Collins. “My acting has helped me transform myself back into the person I was supposed to be and allowed me to be vulnerable by expressing my pain and aggressions in a positive way.”
Ripple Effect Last Stop by Belize Villafranco expressed how he took positive strides in his life with the help of programs in San Quentin.
Chris Marshall, Sr.’s piece Endangered Species stressed that One-Percenters need everyone else and should value them.
While Eric Lamont Durr had warmed up the crowd at the beginning with a comedy routine, the final play, What’s Up Wit It? by Diins Mahlohn echoed Marshall’s piece by reiterating how we as a society need to appreciate each other.
Director Suraya Keating added, “I’m here to facilitate healing and growth and connection through theater.”
The Parallel Plays can be seen on the Marin Shakespeare website at www.marinshakespeare.org.