Arts Listings

PEN Oakland Writers’ Group Stages Four Plays

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Thursday September 10, 2009 - 11:48:00 AM

PEN Oakland, a chapter of the International Organization of Poets, Essayists and Novelists (PEN), will stage A Night of Short Plays at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 13, at the West Oakland Senior Center, and at 8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, Sept. 17 and 18, at Live Oak Theater in Berkeley. 

The plays include The Boy, the Girl and the Piece of Chocolate by poet and KPFA personality Jack Foley, directed by Lewis Campbell; Doug Howerton’s Firing Blanks at Moving Targets, about John Africa’s MOVE organization of the 1970s, directed by Michael Lange; The Remember Woman of Una, by Tennessee Reed; and The Trial of Christopher Columbus, by John Curl, directed by Kim McMillon. 

Kim McMillon of PEN Oakland commented on the production, the second part of PEN’s Playwrights series; the first, 4x4 Plays, was presented last March and reviewed in the Planet. 

“We have the Northern California Book Awards through PEN Oakland; with these two series, we’ve wanted to give local playwrights a chance, too. When Ishmael Reed and others set up PEN Oakland, it was to give voice to those not often heard, those marginalized, who represent a whole audience.” 

On the plays themselves, McMillon said, “Jack Foley’s play portrays a whole relationship in a battle over the last piece of chocolate! Is chocolate more important than love? Sometimes in my life it is! Do I stay home and eat a box of chocolates, or go out on a date, trying to find love? I know I’m going to be satisfied with the box of chocolates!” 

On Tennessee Reed’s play, McMillon talked about the fantasy of “a llama-shaped city.... Tennessee created the woman of Una, like in a stream of consciousness. Writers create mythological characters in our minds, with powers. It’s a magical part of herself—at least I think so!” 

John Howerton’s play about John Africa and his MOVE organization, which culminated in Philadelphia police firebombing the commune, burning down blocks of the African-American neighborhood, comes from Howerton’s own experiences in the earlier phases of MOVE, “before the crazy, crazy stuff started to happen. He left the group. John joined as a Vietnam veteran, searching for peace when he returned—and MOVE began as a consciousness-building organization, believing in coexisting on the earth, aware of other living things ... that didn’t play out in the media, African-Americans declaring against the staus quo.” 

About the play she’s directed, John Curl’s Trial of Christopher Columbus McMillon noted, “It’s something I didn’t know about. When I was in school, we worshipped Columbus. But what he did to Native Americans was horrible. It all takes place in his dungeon cell on Hispaniola, where Haiti and the Dominican Republic are today. And it makes you think about today’s wars of aggression—which didn’t start with Columbus!” 

McMillon spoke of the diversity of the acting troupe for the plays: “We have people from all walks of life—a retired actor, back after 15 years; a lawyer ... and a lot of poets! It’s really a multicultural group, too, one of PEN’s missions, with Native Americans and a Filipino playing the Native Americans in the play about Columbus, as well as Jewish, Irish and African Americans ... really, everybody in the spectrum.” 

McMillon also talked about tight budgeting in times like these and the help PEN has received: “Writers believe in using what you have, thinking of creative ways to get people to help, what to do to make it work, more than writing grants. And we’ve gotten so much help: Black Rep allowed us to use their stage for rehearsals; San Francisco Shakespeare, whom I used to work for, lent us costumes; the West Oakland Senior Center let us perform in their space—and Live Oak gives rates where a poor group can afford a real theater! Playwrights don’t always get a shake, due to the expense of production. But we’ve figured out how to do it—and it’s all about community.” 


PEN Oakland:  

A Night of Short Plays 

A Night of Short Plays at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 13 at the West Oakland Senior Center, 1724 Adeline. 

8 p. m. Thursday and Friday, Sept. 17 and 18, at Live Oak Theater, 1301 Shattuck (at Berryman) in Berkeley.  

$7-$10 sliding scale at the door; for reservations or information on PEN, 681-5652.