Jill Weinlein, Chief Los Angeles Critic
The world premiere of the wildly theatrical Black Super Hero Magic Mama tackles real life social injustice with fantasy comic book super heroes. Playwright Ida Craig-Galvan tries to instill humor into a tragic event, yet it gets lost in its execution.
She wrote this piece during her second year in grad school about a grieving black mother after watching Tamir Rice’s mother on television. Seeing her sadness and helplessness, she wrote about a similar experience and how the mother goes into a magical fantasy world as a coping mechanism
During the first half we meet Sabrina Jackson (Kimberly Hebert Gregory) and her intelligent and handsome teenage son Tramarion (Cedric Joe). Sabrina is not only his mother, but also his father, since the boy lacks one. I was happy to see this wonderful actress once again on a Geffen Playhouse stage. I fondly remember her performance as Adiean in Geffen’s 2016 production of ‘Barbecue’. Director Robert O’Hara is back too from his success with ‘Barbecue’.
As Sabrina reads aloud a chapter from Harry Potter to her son, she recites how most of the characters are white and miserable and when their mind snaps “they go somewhere special and be a super hero.”
She does her best to protect her son, yet can be with him every minute of the day. After Later a police “confusion” Sabrina grows numb, catatonic and falls into a deep depression. Lured into radiating white light, she becomes a comic book super hero “The Maasai Angel.” As part of the Warrior Tribe, she tries to get back what is hers, her son. However, where there is a hero, there are villains. The play moves from in-time, to flashbacks and flash forward scenes. Other notable actors include Anchorperson Connie Wright (Reiko Aylesworth) who becomes ‘Lady Vulture’ and Dave Lester (Walter Belenky) who becomes ‘Death Tap’.
Costume designer Karen Perry went all out on the ‘Lady Vulture’ outfit. She also must have had a fun time dressing Sabrina as the Maasai Angel, and statuesque sister Lena (Cynthia Kaye McWilliams) in trendy jackets with sexy cut-outs and stylish outfits.
Projection designer Yet Eun Nam cleverly takes a Chicago neighborhood and transforms it on the back wall changing colors depending on the time of the day. Next its a television news station, then comic book pages, a platform for social commentary and a stunning wall with cat eyes in trees glancing side to side.
Sound designer enhances the show with an interesting selection of music and Gregorian chants.
The show reminded me a little of The Wizard of Oz, as Sabrina becomes the ‘Maasai Angel’ confronting a slew of individuals before reaching the entity, her son. Craig-Galvan tries to create humor and silliness in sad times, yet after intermission, it just didn’t work for me. It was too long, and disturbing, especially the cowboy pointing guns at the ‘Maasai Angel’s’ face and watching a villain being electrocuted. Maybe comic book fans will find this more appealing.
What I did like was her overall message in stopping the needless killing of innocent young black men.
NOW – APR 14, 2019
Audrey Skirball Ken-is Theater
Written by Inda Craig-Galván
Directed by Robert O'Hara
Featuring Noah Abbott, Reiko Aylesworth, Walter Belenky, Daryl C. Brown, Kevin Douglas, Kimberly Hébert Gregory, Cedric Joe & Cynthia Kaye McWilliams
Tickets are $30 to $120. 10886 Le Conte Avenue (310)208-5454 geffenplayhouse.org.