Wilton Howard, one of six writers and a senior history major at Morgan State Univeristy, was faced with the task of creating a play in 24- hours. He had a vision for his work that completely captured his audience and left members with a new point of view on who they are and how they go about viewing others. Howard’s play, “The Negro Nutcracker” ran last night in Morgan’s Turpin-Lamb Theater, during the finale of the first PlaySlam collaboration between Morgan and Towson University.
The Nutcracker group consisted of Howard, director Timothy Huth and actresses Sharnicia Grandy, Mani Yangilmau and Vicky Gillen. The theme of their play, as well as all the plays performed was glass. Each playwright was also responsible for incorporating a prop, picked at random at the beginning of the event, into their piece. Howard and Huth chose a black nutcracker.
“A black Russian dude?” said Wilton. “ What in the world?” When originally given the prop Wilton did not know where to begin. He had glass and a black nutcracker. All the brain storming Wilton did before the Play Slam went out the door and he had to start from scratch. He decided to use glass similar to William Shakespeare’s usage in the play “A Mirror Up to Nature.” Paired with his original usage of the nutcracker, the play sent a powerful message.
With a half an hour to rehearse lines for the PlaySlam, Wilton posted a yellow sticky note outside the door of the costume room. It read, “Do not disturb!” he wanted the actors to know their lines the best that they could in the little time that they had.
“The Lord was my inspiration,” said Wilton. “ The play has a lot of little Bible references throughout it.” Two characters are named after women in the Bible, Sarah, Abraham’s wife who was unable to bear children and Zipporah, the wife of Moses.
After Wilton finished writing the script, he gave his play to the actors asking for feedback. “It is important to know the perception the actors have on my story,” Wilton said. It is the actors’ job to articulate the vision of the writer so they both need to be on the same page.
According to Wilton this play should raise questions rather than present a lesson.
“After watching the play people should never say ‘It wont be me.,'” Wilton said. “Because you never know until you look into the mirror.”
Meet “The Negro Nutcracker” cast
Rehearsal for the PlaySlam begins for The Negro Nutcracker group at 8 a.m. on Saturday, September 28. Actresses Vicky Gillen, Sharnicia Grandy and Mani Yangilmau immediately pull out their scripts and make themselves comfortable ready to go over their lines.
“ This is very hard to do in 12 hours. He [Wilton] has us covering mental issue, poverty, and race “ says Gillian.
The actors and director emphasize the amount of time that they have to practice, which was only an hour and half. Gillen helped Grandy pull out her emotions to fully make the character come alive. “ We are all actors,” said Gillen “we can be a little crazy.”
The play is about two sisters. Sarah, a mother of 5 who is played by Grandy and Bruhnilda, Sarah’s long lost half-sister, played by Gillian. The women have the same father and different mothers and were both abused by their father. Bruhnilda eventually moves in with her mother and is verbally abused while Sarah experiences both verbal and sexual abuse.
The play is set in Sarah’s bedroom at her apartment. Bruhnilda is there to help her pack her things so that she can move in with her. Meanwhile, Bruhnilda’s close friend Zipporah who is played by Yangilmau, is brought along to help. Zipporah believes that Sarah has mental issues because she thinks that her baby is the negro nutcracker and that her 5 children are missing. The ending of the story leaves everyone with a shocking twist.