Recurring Characters

As I have been reading through several of Cleage’s novels, starting with What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day and recently finishing Babylon Sisters. I was amazed and slightly caught off guard when characters from prior novels kept recurring. Crazy and I Wish I Had a Red Dress use a prominent character in both novels. Additionally, Some Things I Thought I’d Never Do and Babylon Sisters are set in the same time and place but centralize on different characters, additionally characters from Some Things appear in Babylon. Even more so, you can find some of the same characters reappearing in all four books! Then I was even more pleased that Cleage feels it to be completely natural for many of her characters to live in the same world. Cleage comments on her recurring characters below.

“I struggled with whether it was fair to work with the same characters. You have all these arbitrary rules as a writer, like it’s cheating if you go back to the same characters. But I finally realized I don’t believe any of it. If there’s a story there, it should be told. I feel that there is a third Idlewild book, I think it has to do with the little girl, Aretha, who was in the first book. I think that she has a story to tell. I think that black women readers particularly enjoy encountering the same character. I like Valerie Wilson Wesley’s books because I like her character Tamara Hayle. As a reader I like to go through time with these characters. But as a writer the challenge is not to repeat yourself, to let each book stand on its own.”

-Cleage in an interview

I completely agree with Cleage’s comment “As a reader I like to go through time with these characters”. Though there are instances in which it is nice for the character’s lives post-novel to be left up to the imagination, as in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7). The manner in which Cleage approaches it feels like running into an old friend on the street, an unexpected, yet pleasant surprise.


Post-show discussion – Sunday, July 29

This past Sunday we had our second post-show discussion for 2 by Pearl (the first, a small discussion following a League of Chicago Theatres Theater Thursday performance, included a brief backstage tour), and there were some really fascinating questions and answers and thoughts from audience and artists alike.

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Ava’s Travels

Traveling coincidences?

In the Eclipse’s current production of Cleage’s Late Bus to Mecca the character Ava Johnson is beginning a journey from Detroit to Atlanta to possibly open her own hair parlor.

In Cleage’s novel What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day the character Ava Johnson takes a journey from being a hairdresser in Atlanta to moving back to her hometown near Detroit.

just sayin’….

Opening night

Late Bus to Mecca2 by Pearl opened Sunday night after a couple of great previews – we were working on the technical elements and directors Chuck Smith and Thomas Jones were giving notes to the actors through the weekend as we got ready for the opening performance.

One of the most interesting things to see (for me, anyway) is how a show evolves after opening night – all of the major choices have been made, and actors will stay true to the work they’ve done with the director through the rehearsal process, but things always change slightly as actors settle into roles and the stage manager gets more comfortable with the sound and light cues.

I don’t know what Chuck or Thomas plan to do, but I always like to stop by a show that I’ve directed a couple of weeks after it’s opened – not to give notes or criticism (as some directors do), but just to enjoy. Sometimes the rhythm gets sharper, sometimes the characters feel more fully explored, sometimes a new discovery has happened that changes the tone of a moment.

HospiceThat’s one of the main things that attracts me to theatre – unlike film, where your work is locked into a specific moment in time, a play grows and changes over the time it’s running, and each individual performance is a completely unique event and an unrepeatable work of art.

2 by Pearl is an especially interesting night of theatre to revisit – since the two actors in Late Bus to Mecca are alternating roles through the run, you can watch two different interpretations of the same characters evolve as Frances and Alana explore their own work and watch and listen to each other’s. Hospice, which focuses on a complex and layered relationship between mother and daughter, will grow as well, as Tanya and Noelle continue exploring the subtle nuances lying underneath the surface of their dialogue.

This is not to say that these shows aren’t fantastic now – of course they are, and I hesitate to say that they’ll be “better” as they go along – just that they’ll be different, and it’s worth coming back to see how those little differences change the overall experience.

Hey, we’re on TV!

Late Bus to MeccaStage Channel has two clips of 2 by Pearl currently running here.

If the link doesn’t take you right to the video, you may need to search for “2 by Pearl” on the Stage Channel site.

This is Alana Arenas and Frances Wilkerson, waiting for the Late Bus to Mecca. There’s also a scene from Hospice with Noelle Hardy and Tanya Lane.

Late Bus times two

In Late Bus to Mecca, Pearl Cleage introduces us to two women – Ava Johnson is a confident, talkative prostitute looking for salvation; and A Black Woman (ABW, as it’s written in the script) is a woman whose unknown past has bruised her spirit enough to make her silent throughout the play.

In the production Thomas Jones is directing (which opens on Sunday), actors Frances Wilkerson and Alana Arenas are playing the two roles in rotation – Frances will be playing Ava this week, Alana will play Ava next week, and so on.

It’s been fascinating to watch two very different shows develop through the rehearsal process – both women are wonderful in both roles, and they’ve made some different choices and discovered some different aspects of each character. 

Why Pearl Cleage knocks me out, part three

Because of dialogue like this:

JENNY: I told someone once that the music of Billie Holliday ran through my early life like a leitmotiv.

ALICE: What did he say?

JENNY: Why do you assume I was talking to a man?

ALICE: It’s a seduction line, Sister. I’m not that sick. What did he say?

JENNY: He said, “What’s a leitmotiv?”

(They both laugh)

From Hospice, one of the one act plays in 2 by Pearl.