Cleveland Public Theatre’s ‘Panther Women’ breaks down barriers




Following the spellbinding opening of India Nicole Burton’s “Panther Women: An Army For The Liberation” at Cleveland Public Theatre an interesting situation was noted. As is traditional with CPT there was food and libations for those who wished to stay (which was pretty much everyone). It is, after all, a chance for the audience to meet with the cast, to mingle with other theater goers and grab a bite to eat following the first show.

In spite of four horrendous years with “the previous administration” and that “damn Covid” people had donned their masks and brought their proof of vaccination cards on a cold and rainy February night to see a play about the powerful Black women who had fought along side the men involved with the Black Panther movement of the 60s into the 80s. Gathered at the post show party were equal numbers of blacks and whites all conversing, sharing and laughing together. While this may not be a unique situation at CPT, it gives one hope to see this and it proves that no one man can divide this country.

The Black Panther Party (originally known as the Black Panther Party for Self Defense) was a Marxist-Leninist Black political organization founded in Oakland, California in October of 1966 by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton. Originally the organization promoted the open carry of firearms to protect its members and participated in “copwatching” in order to monitor the behavior of officers of the Oakland Police Department. Later the group went nationwide and branched out into community social programs that included free breakfasts for children as well as free health clinics that featured education and treatment of such diseases as sickle cell anemia, tuberculosis and later HIV and AIDS.

“Panther Women” tells the story of strong women who had the guts to stand up and be seen and heard but were also condemned not only by the racially charged whites but their own communities as well. Through song, interpretive dance, history lessons, dialogue and stories their tales are told of their suffering, risking of life and the prices paid. It is gripping dramatic theater at its best. The stage set is something right out of the most barren of hoods and the cast makes full use of every inch of space. The costuming is to say the least intimidating but effective.

The ensemble, made up of Dayshawnda Ash, Raven Mone’t Bryant, Hayley Johnson, Zyece Montgomery, Maya Nicholson, Shanna Sharkley and Sydney Smith is true to the adage of “greater than the sum of its parts.” The 90 minute show with no intermission runs the entire gauntlet of emotions taking the audience to dizzying heights. This is not theater for the faint of heart. There are graphic adult situations and language...lots of language but it is used to illustrate the frustration felt by those uttering the words.

The show is produced by Raymond Bobgan, Choreographed by Munirah Bomani. Costumes are by Marti Coles and Scenic Designer is Nina Castillo-D’Angier. Moneé Stamp is the Lighting Designer and Amy Weaver is the Sound Designer. Fight Choreographer is Maya Nicholson. India Nicole Burton is the Line Producer, Director and Playwright.

It becomes evident early on that the women on stage are not just repeating words written on a page. They are relating incidents that they have lived through or are close to family members who have. This is intense theater with a purpose and that purpose is to educate and change the past and give hope to a brighter future. Be a witness to this happening and see this play.

“Panther Women-An Army For The Liberation” will be on stage in the Gordon Square Theatre at Cleveland Public Theatre through February 26, 2022. For more information and tickets go to https://www.cptonline.org/ or call (216) 631-2727.

For information on the latest CPT Covid protocols go to https://www.cptonline.org/plan-your-visit/.

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.