Karamu’s ‘Breakfast At The Bookstore’ is a trip to the light fantastique
The story takes place in Glenville, Ohio, a neighborhood found in Cleveland’s East Side. It is bordered by Bratenahl, the Shoreway, East Cleveland, Hough, University Circle and the Lake Erie shore.
It is perhaps unfortunately best known for the “Glenville Uprising” that occurred on July 23rd and 24th, 1968 when a running gun battle occurred between police and Black nationalists. After four hours of armed exchange three policemen, three suspects and a bystander were dead with at least 15 more police, gunmen and bystanders wounded.
It is now five years after that tragedy and Dot (Mariah Burks) has started a bookstore geared to support the Black Liberation Movement. Her dream is to hold weekly free breakfasts for the area children much like the Black Panthers had done. Her common law husband, Sharpe (Prophet Seay) is dead set against the idea. His plan is to open a small appliance repair shop in the same space that he feels will better serve the needs of the predominately Black community.
Sharpe has an acquaintance, Haywood (Dar’Jon Bentley) who works at a local lumber yard. He gathers up cast off wood of odd quality that the two manage to fashion into tables for the store. Although the neighborhood is predominately Black, they have a White female mail carrier, Fran (Carolyn Demanelis) who got the route because none of the other male white postal workers wanted it. Fran has a good heart and a true empathy for the people on her route. She offers to teach Dot how to drive in order to have more independence. While Dot loves Sharpe she is a bit flighty in the romance department. Over the course of time she has a fling with both Haywood and Fran.
There is also the matter of the aliens. Prior to the Glenville Uprising, Sharpe had allowed himself to be “taken up” by a spaceship that he described as “a circle of light” that came out of the sky. While under their care, the aliens allowed Sharpe to see into the future. This changed Sharpe from being a Black Nationalist to quite the opposite as he realized the futility of fighting.
As the first act comes to a conclusion, Sharpe has pretty much taken over the bookstore for his small appliance repair business after police raided the establishment and wrecked Dot’s free breakfast set-up. As night falls, strange lights begin to appear outside and the interior lights begin to flash on and off. Haywood and Fran go outside to see what is happening only to be taken up.
Lisa Langford is a Cleveland based actress and award winning playwright with an M.F.A. from Cleveland State University. She has performed in a number of local theater productions that include Cleveland Play House, Dobama and Mamai Theatres. She is currently the Artistic Associate of Black Lives Black Words. Her new play combines
sci-fi whimsy with cutting social commentary on the plight of Blacks in Cleveland 50 years ago into today.
The work is tightly directed by Nina Domingue who brings out the best of a stellar cast. Prophet Seay as Sharpe is the perfect choice as the voice of truth as he tries to make sense out of what has been revealed to him. His description of the post Obama years is chilling. Mariah Burks as Dot seems at first to be a bit flighty but in reality she has a steadfast hold on what she wishes to accomplish in the neighborhood. Her thoughts of “little actions can make great changes” rings true. Dar’Jon Bentley as Dot’s unintended love interest transforms from innocent to unwilling radical after his alien encounter. Carolyn Demanelis as Fran is the woman with a huge heart but troubled as to how to help. Hers is a situation very close to the Black experience as women in the late 60s and early 70s had not yet organized.
The only complaint that I had was that the unmic’d actors had problems with projection. Many of their lines simply could not be heard, especially early on. An investment into individual remote mics might be a consideration for the future.
If you are looking for a bit of something different with hard hitting social commentary, look no farther. This is an entertaining two hours with a profound message and a magnifying microcosm of the Black/White situation in Cleveland and the world both past and present. Come to the show and be enlightened.
Karamu House’s “The Breakfast At The Bookstore” will be on stage in The Cleveland Foundation Jelliffe Theatre, 2355 East 89th Street, Cleveland, Ohio through February 18, 2024. For more information and tickets go to http://www.karamuhouse.org or call (216) 795-7070.