Dallas — No longer new to the DFW theatrical community, TeCO Theatrical Productions’ playwriting festival, Down for #TheCount Women’s Theatre Festival: A Celebration of Female Voices, is directed this season by Phyllis Cicero. Maintaining Teresa Coleman Wash’s commitment to featuring female playwrights, the one-act play festival presents the works of six local and national female playwrights (alphabetically): Maryam Obaidullah Baig, Kristiana Rae Colón, Katherine Craft, Tsehaye Geralyn Hebért, Linda Jones and Ife Olujobi.
DIY by Katherine Craft peers into the friendship of two girls during a crisis. Rory (Haley Thomas) notices Elena (Ashley B. Jones) has become a little remote. Rory will not accept this and keeps questioning her. She pushes into Elena’s home while mother Linda (Ash’lee L’Oreal Davis) is out, pressing and digging until she stumbles across a prescription in Elena’s name. Cornered, Elena finally reveals her secret, one that appears to have only two options—bad and worse.
Ife Olujobi deliciously blasts into self-appreciation, identity politics, the objectification of women and femaleness with Interdisciplinary. It is a play about a performance art piece by a female figure (Jamila Marie) who is being critiqued by two professors (Kenne Earl and Tucker Souther). The men engage in what they purport to be intellectual discourse while the performer remains silent, even in the presence of female observers (Lulu Ward and Ash’lee L’Oreal Davis). Male privilege affords the professors the option of selecting the parts of femaleness they will accept, as if discarding the unworthy petals from a rose.
Maryam Obaidullah Baig’s Jo Chako Tum (Whatever You Want) stirs a surrealistic tale of unexpected characters, from a redneck grandpa to a Scheherazade inspiration and a son who plays rhubarb like a rockstar and was raised underground. They are all present to frame the granddaughter’s untold story: Granddad M (Kenne Earl), Barny (Haley Thomas), Aliya (Lulu Ward), Lalita (Ashley B. Jones), Mahrukh (Ash’lee L’Oreal Davis) and Narrators Tucker Souther and Lulu Ward.
In I Get the Blues, Sometimes I Do, Tsehaye Geralyn Hebért tackles privilege in another common form—cultural appropriation. If Colleen Finney (Lulu Ward) refuses to understand cultural appropriation, how will she ever understand the blues? This is what frustrates her friend Stephanie Carter (Feleceia Benton) and threatens their friendship. What Colleen sees as a learning opportunity is for Stephanie a taking of her stories which are part of her identity.
Thousands of young black girls grew up hearing those words from their mothers, words that some interpret as a reference to beauty. In Linda Jones’ one-woman piece The Sound, Woman (Feleceia Benton) discovers that hair is for her, a source of strength and key to survival is unexpected, powerful, and hot in a sizzling hair kind of way. “A woman’s hair is her crown and glory,” she says.
“Water is our body, water is our soul.” Voltaire (Ash’lee L’Oreal Davis), Rabbit (Ashley B. Jones), Yansa (Jamila Marie) and Mika (Haley Thomas) come together on the eve of inauguration to engage in a ritual they believe will protect them. They are discovered by Roger (Tucker Souther). Kristiana Rae Colón’s lyricism drives Covenant, which flows poetically.
Each play benefits from a committed ensemble of actors who bring the right amount of verve to the works. Feleceia Bennett, Lulu Ward and Jamila Marie are standouts. Cicero has arranged the plays in a conversational manner, each responding to and engaging with the one before. We are introduced to female characters who do not ask permission to claim space for their stories. Down for #theCount succeeds, strengthening with each new cycle.