By Pat Launer
There was plenty of passion — of the political and sexual kind — and more than a dollop of warm, oozing sensuality in “Passion and Honey,” an evening of poetic musings by writer/director Calvin Manson, produced under the banner of the Ira Aldridge Repertory Players, which he founded 31 years ago.
Manson is trying to create an inviting community theater, a place for black voices to be heard in the Mountain View/Lincoln Park area of San Diego. He has yet to draw a strong and unwavering following (sadly, he had to cancel a couple of the final-weekend performances), but those who come are typically inspired and satisfied.
The strength of IARP’s mission is also, alas, its weakness. Manson wants to help develop new talent and provide a platform for aspiring performers. This makes for a range of experience, competence and professionalism in his productions. And yet, in his latest show — which Manson has presented several times before (with updates this go-round to reflect the harrowing, violent shootings of young black men) — one of the most potent and convincing performances came from an inexperienced actor.
Leon Matthews is not new to the stage or to IARP. As an accomplished sax-man, he’s played for several IARP productions — and we were treated to a few musical riffs in this latest show, too. He also contributed a poem to the mix: the whimsically suggestive “Chocolate is an Addiction.” In each of his recitations, Matthews exhibited a wonderfully centered presence, an unforced naturalness that made every word sound like it came directly from his heart, from the sultry, erotic “Water of Your Bath” to the jazzy “She Was is Jazz.” He shows impressive promise as an actor.
Each of the other four performers had memorable moments: Ronnie Williams in “God Why Did you Make Me Black?,” Miesha Fuller in “Steppin’ into Manhood,” Kalif W. Price in “How Could the Sky Burn” (a gut-wrenching, highly charged political piece performed in tandem with Matthews) and Candace Lawson in “Butterflies” (co-written by Manson and Brunette Pitty Willy).
In this brief evening of poems, Manson is charting his own life, from the games he played as a child to his first, shy romantic awakenings, to his political awareness, spurred by the civil rights movement and then, Dr. King’s death, the anger that ensued giving way to his dreams for the future of African Americans.
His shows provide an outlet for his own passions which, judging from the post-performance Q&A, resonated with so many folks, both white and black. I hope he continues to do what he does (mostly backed by his own personal financing), and adds to the mix more professional, narrative-driven plays that reflect the African American experience. Most of all, I hope the community rises to his challenge and supports his efforts.
- “Passion and Honey” ran, as all Manson’s productions do, in the Educational Cultural Complex at 4343 Ocean View Blvd. in Mountain View.
Pat Launer is a long-time San Diego arts writer and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and reviews can be found at www.patteproductions.com.
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: