The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival is the oldest solo performance event in the LA area. The 16th annual festival, held at Highways Performance Space March 26-29, proved to be a lively trip through female psyches and ideas. Opening night at the Festival featured a champagne buffet gala fit for a bat mitzvah, with an awards ceremony and some performances. Honored for their contributions to theatre and human rights were performance artist Leilani Chan (Rainbow Award), actor Tanna Frederick (Maverick Award), producer Gay Iris Parker (Eternity Award), actor/teacher/playwright Adriana Sevan (Integrity Award), and the Infinity Award, given posthumously to singer/actor and all-time best “Catwoman,” Eartha Kitt, who was described as embodying all of the traits honored by the other awards.The programs that night, and over the next three days, featured guest hosts from theatre, movies, and TV, including Hattie Winston (Becker), Pasadena Playhouse director Sheldon Epps, Marla Gibbs, Loretta Devine (Eli Stone), and James Pickens (Grey’s Anatomy). With the unifying theme of “United We Stand,” honoring the hope and unity personified by President Barack Obama, highlights included: Rose Weaver, in an excerpt from her one-woman show “The Incomparable Ethel Waters: A Night of Stormy Weather.” As the famous singer, Weaver sang and danced (with bumps and grinds!), talked, cried, and even dished a bit about her rivalry with Lena Horne. Laura James’ “Ms. Furr and Ms. Skeene,” based on a piece by Gertrude Stein, proved that the verbal repetition for which Stein is notorious can be put to effective use as humor (and James’ facial expressions were a language all their own).Kali Quinn’s “Vamping,” was probably the most-talked about dramatic piece. Quinn played an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s, as well as the woman’s weary nurse and unaware young granddaughter. Using a wheelchair and an afghan as props, and also using her body in daring relation to the props, Quinn touched upon all the problems connected with Alzheimer’s and moved many in the audience to tears.Chelsea Gregory’s “The 6 Project” dealt with the emotional climate of Jena, Louisiana, in the wake of that town’s racial scandal of a few years ago. Gregory told of interviewing white supremacists in Jena, a harrowing story about lingering prejudice, tempered by Gregory’s insight and dark humor.Dance-oriented pieces included Laura Elaine Ellis’ “I That Is We,” illustrating the evolution of the African-American female image, and Cynthia Lee’s “Fish Hook Tongue,” a moving visual interpretation of issues about the languages spoken in Taiwan.In contrast to the serious tone of many performances, Micia Mosely’s “Where My Girls At” was a hoot and a half. Spoofing reality shows and racial and gender stereotypes through an imaginary show, “Black Beauty: America’s Next Top Negress,” Mosely played three characters (out of five from her full-length version) and had the audience shrieking with laughter. Mosely is a comedy force to watch.The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival is already gearing up for 2010. Applications and other information about the festival can be found at lawtf.com.
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