The Oct. 23 performance of Marin Shakespeare at the San Quentin chapel featured another series of original parallel plays—inspired this time by The Winter’s Tale.
David Gadley started things off by illustrating the inner turmoil caused by overdose and an unavoidable drug test in Making Better Choices, before Jason Griffin examined the trauma of childhood abuse in A Hiding Place.
“I remember bruised faces, my mother pulling my hair—I remember myself,” SQ volunteer Chérie McNaulty said later about the powerful images Griffin’s poem evoked in her as she listened from the audience.
Seeing McNaulty noticeably shaken by his performance, Griffin immediately went to sit by her side in the pews after his reading.
“He was concerned about my emotions, but I told him that’s all part of the healing,” she said.
Derby Brown and Raiveon Wooden joined forces for Lethal vs. The Gruesome 3, which dealt with the frustrations that lead to mental crises and suicidal thoughts.
“Hey Mr. Suicide, why would you get those kids to take their own lives?” Brown voiced.
Then Belize Villafranco inspired everyone to get up and move around with his Healing Song. Audience members stood, clapped in rhythm and soon formed a conga line, weaving back and forth from the stage and into the pews.
Kerry Rudd next brought the crowd back to a contemplative mood with his play, Stay Greedy… or Make Amends? It told the story of a robbery crew that eventually returns the stolen loot to its owner.
Chris Thomas sang Remembering How To Breathe and enlisted Billingsley to pantomime a physical interpretation center stage. Then Billingsley performed his own Mind Yo Biz 2, a play about resolving old jealousies.
In his Freedom of Expression in the Midst of Oppression, Brown rejoiced through a chorus of “I’m rollin’ with Jesus—I’m rollin’ with Jesus.”
An institutional recall for prisoners in SQ’s H-Unit interrupted the show midway at 11:10 am. Performers housed in those dormitories were required to leave the chapel and report back to the unit.
Despite the unexpected shuffle of performances, Jessie Ayers’ Transitions hit a home run with its message of prejudice transformed into acceptance. Ayers drew from the observed discomfort some SQ prisoners hold against transwomen prisoners.
“How does a dude one day all of a sudden wake up and decide he’s a chick?” said Ayers in character—deriding a group of trans prisoners who simply said “hi” to him.
Suraya Keating and Kate Brickley played speaking roles as part of the trans group. They were joined on stage by SQ’s own Adriel Ramirez and Nah.na Reed.
“How do you call yourself a Christian?” Brickley’s character responded when Ayers attempted to cite the Bible as proof against transgenders. “I’m not your bro.”
“There’s only two rules in my house, honey—if you don’t fight it, I won’t bite it,” Keating’s pigtailed trans character chimed in to continue heckling Ayers.
The play shifted scenes to a full year later, when Ayers’ character encounters Brickley’s at a Christmas banquet. “Don’t act like I don’t see you all the time on the tier,” he tells her, referring to them being housed near each other in the same building.
“You see me… do you know what it means to just hear you say those words?” responds Brickley, starting to cry. “You see me.”
They end up shaking hands and wishing each other a Merry Christmas—all to huge rounds of standing applause.
To make up for some of the performers lost to the H-Unit recall, John Ray Ervin, Sr. gave an impromptu reading of original poetry. “This is live theater, y’all,” he said.
Richie Morris, who was recently found suitable for parole after 34 years behind bars, had 20 fellow prisoners join him onstage to face the audience.
Each person took the microphone to speak of his convicted offense aloud, along with his sentence and the number of years he’d already served.
“That’s 339 years total between us,” said Morris. “I want you to wrap your head around that—if you can.”
On that note, Morris and Quentin Blue closed the show with their song, The Last Mile.