The flyers and playbills clearly advertised a collection of “parallel plays,” yet hardly anyone who attended Marin Shakespeare
San Quentin’s October showcases knew quite what to expect.
“The performances you will see today invite us to contemplate a crucial choice many of us must make in our lives—the choice to live from fear or love,” explained Suraya Keating in her Director’s Notes.
The opening act on Oct. 11—Darwin Billingsley’s Father & Son: The Broken Curse—left no doubt that the audience in the SQ chapel would see the acting troupe bare their souls onstage.
Billingsley portrayed a family’s painful journey through the cycles of addiction, trauma, dysfunction and, finally, redemption and hope. Raiveon Wooden played his son.
“As father and son we come together—to break this curse, forever and ever,” chanted Billingsley and Wooden in their final scene, paralleling characters from Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen from Verona.
Sam Kouzzah read from his poem, Prodigal Son, while Tommy Payne, Kerry Rudd, and Wooden stood in place performing interpretative dance moves as they stared hauntingly out at the spectators.
In An Angel’s Curse, Jason Griffith revisited the theme of addiction before singing Nirvana’s Come as You Are.
Garry Grady, in his originally crafted Good vs. Evil, examined the human quality of why “it felt so good to be bad.”
Rudd read from SQ’s No More Tears group agreements before Andrew Wadsworth read an apology letter to his victim, Antonio Young.
High energy and drama ensued next as Philippe Kelly and Wooden riled up the chapel crowd during Justice, a play filled with rivalry and vengeance that featured multiple well-choreographed fight scenes.
“Where’s Raygeta? Where is he?” Kelly growled as he stalked his way through the aisle ways and pews. He got right into the face of audience members, and they ate it up.
Punches, throw downs, karate kicks to the head—such theatrics kept the crowd fully engaged. Midway through, Kelly even dragged Wooden’s limp body entirely out of the chapel in an attempt to dispose of his enemy.
After a grand finale group battle reminiscent of professional wrestling, Kelly and Wooden clutched each other face to face and yelled, “If you smell what Shakespeare is cooking…” a nod to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Before his play, Bed Time Story, Tommy Payne—with the video help of First Watch’s Adamu Chan—produced a short animation film as a complementary preamble to his cautionary tale of wizards, magic and gnomes.
John Ray Ervin, Sr., read his spoken word Dear Soul from offstage while Kelly and Wooden returned to stand in somber silence with their backs against one another.
Ervin came to the performance in a wheelchair, refusing to miss his chance to speak his piece about the day he lost his mother, Annamarie. “That day, half of my heart died,” he read.
Rudd next performed Complicated, a tune he wrote himself. Before starting, he told the audience, “Even though I’m in state prison, I’m gonna have a good time singing it.”
Ronell Draper, who most people at SQ know simply as “Rauch,” likened his “When Will It Be Enuff?” to a public service announcement, rather than a performance.
“This is to showcase what goes on here, so you can understand what you’re seeing. The men and women in blue—they’re expert therapists,” he said. “How many of you are part of my support team? Anyone—please stand up.”
Over twenty people, prisoners and outside persons alike, rose to Draper’s call. He segued his presentation into equating prison reform to community reform, pointing to Marin Shakespeare’s mix of inside and outside participants.
“I’m moved,” said Draper to the audience. “You came here to see us. Imagine that.”
Wooden returned again for his short piece, Love Is Poison, in which he personified love as a female entity. “Is love poison?” he asked. “It all depends on how you treat her.”
The Oct. 11 performance ended on a high note with Belize Villafranco’s Healing Story and Song. The whole ensemble gathered onstage and spilled into the front pews as Villafranco led them in lively rhythmic dance.