“Rasheeda Speaking” – Black Theatre Troupe and “45th Anniversary Sapphire Celebration” – Arizona Opera

This review aired on KBAQ October 17, 2016


Black Theatre Troupe, Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center
Phoenix, AZ

Two exciting performing arts events – the Black Theatre Troupe’s rich staging of “Rasheeda Speaking” and an incandescent Arizona Opera concert celebrating the company’s 45th season – made quite an exciting performing arts weekend.

After a long period of mediocrity and a rocky transition to their new playhouse, the Black Theatre Troupe presents a smashing local premiere, “Rasheeda Speaking,” a 2015 play that tackles an ongoing racial problem confronting this country.

BTT combines a gifted ensemble cast who give insightful characterizations that director Matthew Wiener brings together in an artful production.  The tense one-act play explores the problems some white people have with black employee integration into the American workplace.

Rasheeda is a name used by bigoted whites who don’t want to utter the hideous “n” word.  The play evolves in a Chicago doctor’s office in a large medical building where patients register at the entrance before seeing their doctor.

Dr. Williams’ two office staff assist when the patients arrive.  One receptionist, Ileen, has been with the doctor for a long time and tolerates his quirks, idiosyncrasies, and racial biases.  The other receptionist is a black woman, Jaclyn.  Several confrontations and many awkward situations allow the staff to discuss in a variety of disguised ways the ignored prejudice.  Is the intolerable circumstance resolved by the play’s end?  I will not provide the answer because you should see this fine production and discover it for yourself.

Not only does the play explore this discriminatory issue but the superb performers couldn’t be better.  Lillie Richardson has matured into a stellar actress of emotional depth and she crafts Jaclyn’s many shadings with artful intensity.  She’s calm one moment and then she’s feisty and sharp-tongued as she creates a remarkable character study.  No less extraordinary is Katie McFadzen, who fashions a complicated Ileen who knows what is right but can’t always do it.

Joseph Kremer, an actor of range and depth, plays the bigoted Dr. Williams in a way that makes you hate the character and his outrageous bias.  Pamela Fields plays an older patient who can only tolerate Jaclyn if the receptionist kowtows to the character’s awful prejudice with subtle dignity.  “Rasheeda Speaking” continues to October 23.  To order tickets, call the Black Theatre Troupe box office at 602-258-8129 or order tickets online at www.blacktheatretroupe.org.

Grade: A

Arizona Opera, Symphony Hall
Phoenix, AZ

The Arizona Opera event featured a dynamic selection of leading opera arias, choruses, and overtures cleverly narrated by renowned opera star Frederica von Stade who sang a few pieces using her still lustrous and pristine voice after her own 45 year operatic career.  She was joined by 10 future opera stars, all supported by the Opera’s own superb orchestra conducted by Ari Pelto in his local debut.  Unfortunately, this fabulous concert ended Sunday, October 16.

Grade: A