The streaming production of “[hieroglyph]” is the story of a bright, artistic, but traumatized 13-year-old girl, Davis (outstandingly impressive work by Jamella Cross), who had to leave New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. While her mother remained in a FEMA trailer in New Orleans, her loving yet limited and overburdened father, Ernest (excellent Khary L. Moye), brought Davis to Chicago. Davis’s only Chicago friend, the more experienced Leah (top-quality Anna Marie Sharpe), presents a happy diversion to Davis’s inner torment. The scene in which the two girls look forward to going to a party and practice dancing (great choreography by Latanya D. Tigner) is a joyful interlude in their lives.
The viewer and Davis’s caring, insightful art teacher, Ms. T (first-rate Safiya Fredericks), soon deduce that Davis’s maladjustment to school, her strange hieroglyphic drawings, and fear of being touched signal that she has been a victim of sexual abuse. Eventually, we learn that Davis had been raped during her post-Katrina chaotic days at the infamous New Orleans Superdome.
It was with a bit of trepidation that I sat down to watch “[hieroglyph].” Amid a pandemic, I asked myself, did I really want to watch a problematic play about sexual violence and family dislocation? Yet, the plot is so absorbing, and Davis and the other characters are portrayed so compellingly that I was quickly caught up in the drama.
Playwright Erika Dickerson-Despenza planned to write a 10-play Katrina Cycle to focus on all the disaster effects. And she certainly has succeeded with “[hieroglyph].” Yet, there is one minor instance at the end of the drama in which she lost me. Perhaps the author’s intention is to follow-up and clarify the ending of “[hieroglyph]” with the next play in the series. But even without any further clarification, Erika Dickerson-Despenza’s writing is potent and powerful.
Director Margo Hall (the new artistic director of Lorraine Hansberry Theatre) did an outstanding job and made “[hieroglyph]” the closest to an actual theatrical production of all the local streamed plays I’ve seen. This co-production of San Francisco Playhouse and Lorraine Hansberry Theatre was filmed on San Francisco Playhouse’s stage (with numerous safety precautions), and greatly benefited from terrific graphics (Teddy Hulsker), and excellent sound and music (Everett Elton Bradman).
Patrons may purchase tickets ($15 – $100) from either Lorraine Hansberry Theatre at lhtsf.org or San Francisco Playhouse at sfplayhouse.org.
Emily S. Mendel
©Emily S. Mendel 2021 All Rights Reserved