By Fran Syverson
Whose story is it? When a life-story is written, who can claim it as theirs—the person who lived it?—or the one who wrote it?
For Shelita Burns, this becomes a career-shaking question. As a New York editor, she has been featuring a series of autobiographies of African-American women whose stories, she feels, have long been ignored in our culture. Herself a black woman, Shelita has become fascinated by a recent, award-winning story. She knows little about Libby Price, the elderly, reclusive writer who has declined all interviews. Curious, Shelita decides to deliver the award to Libby in person. A train of astonishing events unfold and pose the question—ultimately seemingly unanswerable—of ‘whose story is it?’
Debating that question with dynamic force are Shelita and another author, Sean Leonard. Tamarra Graham as Shelita and Christian Lebano as Sean are superb and energetic in their roles. Each holds valid viewpoints, albeit in direct opposition to the other. Shelita contends that only a black woman can tell her own story. Sean questions her premise in no uncertain terms, convinced that an author can accurately portray another’s life.
We, the audience, are left to ponder and discuss even after we leave the theater. And that seems to be Playwright Thomas Gibbons’s intent—that we take the discussion about ‘whose story is it?’ into our own real world. In view of ongoing racial tensions today, is especially timely that the Sierra Madre Playhouse presents “Bee-luther-hatchee” now.
We dare not give away any more of the plot, with its many entangled mysteries and lies. As those are unveiled, Shelita and Sean both fear they may have a lot to lose if the truth (whose truth?) comes out.
The stage, designed by Christopher Scott Murrillo, has, in effect, two sets, one beyond the other. Hazy, blue-green scrim separates the footlight area from a more distant space. There in her kitchen, Libby (Leilani Smith) is interviewed about her earlier life by Jon Sprik as Robert. Their conversation provides a counterpoint and background to the action between Shelita and Sean, both shedding light and introducing more conundrums.
Olivia Cristina Delgado appears as both Shelita’s buoyant, supportive friend and, briefly, as Sister Margaret in the first act.
Saundra McClain says she is excited to direct “Bee-luther-hatchee” because it concerns issues that she and so many other African-American artists face.
Lobby curator Diane Siegel has created an enticing lobby exhibit with interactive features. Ponder it while waiting for the doors to open, or during intermission.
The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation generously supports the production and public programs for “Bee-luther-hatchee.” Panel discussions on Writers and Diversity will be held on five consecutive Thursdays at 7 p.m. in local venues.
Co-producers Christian Lebano and Estelle Campbell bring us “Bee-luther-hatchee.” Stage manager is Derek Copenhaver, with Jen Gies assisting and also as properties coordinator. Other comprising the production team include Orlando de la Paz, scenic artist; Derek Jones, lighting; Dave Mickey, sound; and Vicki Conrad, costume design.
“Bee-luther-hatchee” will challenge and entertain us through Feb. 18 at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinees, with an additional matinee Saturday, Feb. 18. Admission is $30 for general admission, $27 for seniors (65+), $22 for youth (13-20), children 12 and under, $17.
The Playhouse is at 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre. Eateries and free parking are nearby. For reservations or more information, call (626) 355-4318, or visit the website at www.sierramadreplayhouse for online ticketing. For reservations for groups of 15 or more, call (626) 836-2125.