“Bring your good Sunday clothes, your tambourine, your church fan—and your sense of humor!”
Thandiwe Thomas De Shazor, who was outstanding in his portrayal of the young James Baldwin in Oakland Public Theater’s production of Richard Talavera’s Before the Dream and the Richard Wright Project readings that preceded it, has written Children of the Last Days, “a comedy show that aims to satirize black church culture and the contradictions therein,” which he’ll perform solo, with video projections and original music this Thursday through Saturday at the Oakland Noodle Factory Performing Arts Center, co-presented by Oakland Public Theater with the Nursha Project as part of the Noodle Factory’s Raw Season.
De Shazor will portray six different characters, people involved in the church community, in a series of sketches. The characters include: “one riled up about being a closeted homosexual; a bad little girl everybody thinks is a demon; a woman reverend, The Profitess, a Bible-thumper who’s making a lot of money (the anchor, a big part of the show)—and an androgynous character, Alpha Hydroxy, the moral center of the play, who’s just as messed up as everybody else, but admits it! Alpha Hydroxy runs a sex shop in proximity of the church, and is seen as competing with it, as the same people go to both to get off on different things. He talks about the other characters.”
De Shazor calls it both a comedy and satiric, but not against the church as such. “I think it is timely, but I’m not trying to be anti-religion, anti-black church. I want to start a dialogue—and if you can laugh about it, you can talk. The church has taken a lot of flak over Prop. 8. The ‘Yes on 8’ advertising sometimes had a shady style, telling the community different things, putting things out like that Obama was for 8. That’s unfortunate, and a lot of money spent when the schools were on the ballot; a lot of picketing over gay rights instead of these other priorities.”
De Shazor developed Children of the Last Days while in residency last year at the Queer Arts Festival in San Francisco. “Originally, it was supposed to be a book and readings from the book. But I realized I hadn’t performed onstage for awhile, that I wanted to do it in character. I added music, too, and it started growing. Shalonda Ingram has done a lot with the tech, the projections and sound.”
Meanwhile, Norman Gee of Oakland Public Theater, who books for the Noodle Factory, had met Thandiwe “at Van Kleef’s in Oakland. We started talking about that old jazz photo in A Perfect Day in Harlem. Later I brought him in to assist on something else. Something about his energy ... he was delightful, and fascinated with what I told him about the Richard Wright Project. I cast him as Baldwin because Baldwin was an intellectual, but not dry and intellectual. There’s a teddy bear quality to it. Thandiwe’s enjoyment of the language added a layer of delight to the show.”
De Shazor, from Detroit—where he worked on “a lot of underground productions, experimental theater with the Walk & Squawk Co., workshops at Wayne State U., any chance I got to learn, then toured Oklahoma in The Music Man!”—moved to the Bay Area two years ago, performed with Pan Theater and now works as assistant manager in a Berkeley clothing boutique. He performed stand-up on the “Prepare for a Future” program to get out the vote at Shattuck Downlow in late October.
And now for his solo show he says, “Get Ready! Get Ready!”