On Wednesday evening, August 6, I chose to see the Cheryl West play Before It Hits Home. West's most recently seen work was the Broadway musical, Play On, but, she is best known for her dramatic works, like Holiday Heart. Holiday Heart. tend to depict the Black family in a very blunt way and Before It Hits Home. is no different.
The production was directed by Ernie McClintock and presented by Ernie McClintock's Jazz Actors Theatre.
Before It Hits Home carries the theme of this year's National Black Theatre Festival -- "The Black Family On Stage." It is a hard look at a difficult issue -- how a family reacts to hearing that a member has AIDS, especially when it's a result of a bi-sexual lifestyle.
Wendal (Thaddeus Daniels) is a trumpet player. He lives with Simone (Mary Hodges) and dates Douglas (Lee Simon, Jr.). Siomone knows about Douglas, but is still looking for a marriage commitment from Wendal. When Wendal tells them that he has AIDS, they don't believe him. Simone goes as far as to have sex with him. Meanwhile, Douglas becomes defensive and vehemently states that he didn't give it to him.
Wendal decides to go home and visit with his family. His mother Reba (Joan Green) and his father Bailey (Zaria Griffin) are raising Wendal's son, Dwayne (Eddie Adjepong). His brother Junior (Charles Green) is also coming home on leave. He's a Sergeant in the army. There's also Maybelle (Lola Loui), a close friend of Reba, who visits everyday. When the family is together, at first he keeps it a secret. His father has held his little brother over him all his life. He never felt that Wendal was as good -- at least this is what Wendal believes. Bailey is a hard and demanding man. He takes pot-shots at Wendal every chance he gets.
On the other hand, Reba is portrayed as a religious woman, who has a pride in her family. She goes to church on Sunday, doesn't curse and keep holy water in the house. Water that she will sprinkle if something nasty is said.
But, when Wendal confides in his Mom, the unexpected happens. His mother turns on him and only sees that he has brought shame into her home. A home she can no longer live in. Reba takes Dwayne and moves in with Maybelle.
When Reba tells Bailey, he comes in the room furious and announces to Junior that Wendal has AIDS.
In a very dramatic moment Junior -- who always felt he was the stand-in for Wendal -- tells his father, "There's your son." And, he walks out as Wendal cringes in pain on the living-room floor.
Amidst two very heartwrenching moments, the audience again saw the unexpected. Bailey, bursts into tears, cradles Wendal in his arms and called to God, pledging to take care of his son. Then, in the final scene, as Wendal's cries of agony escalate, Bailey stands alone, holding him. He dies in his arms. At that moment, the play ends on a overwhelming moving moment as Bailey begs God for more time.
West’s play was so real and powerful that there wasn't a dry eye in the room. In fact, one woman wept uncontrollably for at least ten minutes after the auditorium was empty. Explaining why this play was chosen to present this year's “Black Family” theme, Larry Leon Hamlin said, "This is part of our lives. AIDS is something we have to deal with and it's steadily impacting on the Black Family."
--By Linda Armstrong