The Trial of One Short-Sighted Black Woman vs. Mammy Louise and Safreeta Mae

Rated 3.0

The title, subject matter and dramatic approach of playwright Marcia L. Leslie’s culture-on-trial play are pretty intriguing. The Trial of One Short-Sighted Black Woman vs. Mammy Louise and Safreeta Mae is an examination about how images portrayed in the media help denigrate genders as well as ethnic populations. And because Leslie doesn’t take the easy approach, it also looks at what happens if the blame is used as an excuse by people who quickly dismiss historical context or deeper explanations.

Celebration Arts has taken up the challenge of presenting this unique production that plays out as a trial with the audience sitting in as jury. The tone is set when the Judge enters and commands the audience to stand out of respect, though she does it with a twinkle in her eye. This is a trial that calls for a suspension of disbelief.

There are five main characters in the play: two opposing lawyers, Victoria, the “wronged” party (the “short-sighted black woman") and the two women she’s suing ("Mammy and Safreeta Mae"). Victoria is an upwardly mobile black woman who claims that the images from old movies have soiled the success of sisters everywhere. So she’s suing the images from plantation movies, the asexual “Aunt Jemima” figure of Mammy and the sexed-up mulatto temptress Safreeta. But the unexpected happens when the media figures present their own back stories that reveal Victoria has done her own harsh judging.

There are some strong performances that director James Wheatley has pulled out of this cast, including Tisha Hill-Smith (Victoria), Voress Franklin (Mammy), Betty Cummings (Safreeta Mae), and Romann Hodge, who portrays a number of male characters, including a white-faced plantation owner. And the set is cleverly designed to resemble both a courtroom and a slave ship.

However, there are some uneven moments, especially in the first half, that hopefully will work themselves out during the play’s run. And though the showing old film clips is a clever idea, the poor video execution was distracting. But a strong second half with memorable moments makes The Trial a fascinating, thoughtful journey.