KPBS AIRDATE: SEPTEMBER 23, 1992
Greenwood, Mississippi, 1955. An eleven year-old black girl is baby-sitting a younger white child. After the movie, she’s taken back to the white family’s house. The mother beckons her upstairs and pushes her gruffly onto the father’s bed… After the rape, she’s handed five dollars. A year later, at 12, the girl is charging black men five dollars for her favors, and white men, ten.
A couple of petty-theft jail stays later, she follows a young man in hopes of turning a trick. Instead, he turns her onto SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She becomes a civil rights activist, and ultimately, a playwright and a Ph.D.
This is the true-life story of Dr. Endesha Ida Mae Holland, whose life is re-enacted on the Cassius Carter stage by three very talented actresses. Sometimes they narrate, sometimes they share a speech, moving seamlessly from one voice to the next, each taking on Dr. Endesha’s character. But they play many other roles, too, most notably, the playwright’s stalwart, midwife mother, known as Aint Baby; the crotchety old Rosebud Dupree, the brick-throwing water-meter watcher; and Bro Pastor, a hell-fire preacher-man.
There isn’t always that much action onstage, but there’s an easy, rhythmic, poetic flow to the language. At three aching points in the story, seminal events are shown to us with — literally — writhing intensity. We watch the agonizing rape scene. Then, through the eyes of young Ida Mae, we see Aint Baby use her skill and her mystical powers to complete a very difficult delivery that earns her the moniker of Second Doctor Lady. Later, we see the railing and thrashing of Aint Baby when her house is burned down by Klansmen.
The piece is a paean to Aint Baby, and a testimony to determination, hope and self-salvation. But after all the playwright’s been through, all her hard-won triumphs, there’s a depressing coda to the play, one that doesn’t really appear in it. Dr. Endesha is currently suffering from a degenerative neurological disorder. It may slow her down, but her life and her work remain confident, optimistic and inspirational, and there’s a strong flavor of that in Seret Scott’s warm-hearted direction of the piece.
The three actresses are terrific: the smooth, unflappable Saundra Quarterman; the warm and dignified Cheryl Lynn Bruce; and the funny, funky, rubbery Pamala Tyson. These women make a tight, well-oiled ensemble. They draw you in and make you glad you came.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1992 Patté Productions Inc.