Outside the cell, outside the box7/27/2016
A play outside the box, “Hooded” uses a box as a set. The design for Pyramid’s latest production — itself something of an experiment — is by Jordan Weber, an installation artist. Weber has come up with a rotating box, placed center-stage within a horseshoe seating arrangement.
Players perch on top of this cube, or around it, while the side that faces “front” presents a surface that fits the setting. A square of plastic turf, for instance, puts everyone in a park. Other sides have wood paneling or jailhouse concrete.
A clever concept, like playing spin-the-bottle with the world, it suits a script that both the playwright and director call “a comedy, definitely.” Tearrance Chisholm, the writer, was surprised that he’d dreamed up a work so full of laughs. Still a master of fine arts candidate based in Washington, D.C., Chisholm brought early drafts of “Hooded” to workshop, and at first he “balked at hearing” his fellow students crack up.
“But now I get it,” says Chisholm. “This should be funny — really funny — until suddenly it’s not funny at all.”
The script digs into serious matters as well, opening on the cube’s jailhouse surface, as two 14-year-old African-American Baltimore boys while away the time in a holding cell. The charge is trespassing, but both kids realize that, ultimately, they were hauled in for being black.
“Their situation is the great equalizer,” explains Chisholm.
Beneath their skin, that is, the two young protagonists couldn’t be more different. Marquis lives out in “Achievement Heights” — a good example of Chisholm’s wit — his school is a coat-and-tie. Tru comes from the ‘hood — East Baltimore — and emerges from his cell shocked at the things he’s heard from a boy supposedly his “brother.” In response, he writes a how-to book that gives the play its title.
Chisholm calls the result “a classic prince-and-pauper setup that winds up being about all of black culture.”
Jiréh Breon Holder, the director, describes “Hooded” more playfully. “It’s a wild ride,” he claims. The abstract set, he points out, is complemented by original music from Gabriel Clausen out of North Carolina. “The background noise is nothing like hard-core rap,” adds Holder. A production like this, he goes on, ought to help break down “ghetto stereotypes.”
What brought Chisholm to Des Moines, after all, wasn’t some sort of political protest. Rather, he comes as Pyramid’s writer in residence, and he finds the city “a really cool testing ground for the play.” Working with the company’s “great pool of actors,” has “given the work a greater edge.”
That edge, as Holder puts it, “comes up finally against reality.” He and Chislholm don’t mean to ignore the turmoil in American race relations — both claim the production “couldn’t come at a more appropriate time.” Rather, they want to show its complexity.
“We want to transport the audience, taking them to all the different places this culture can go,” says Holder.
Overheard in the Lobby: Nominees for this year’s Cloris Awards will be announced in mid-August. CV
John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.