In a time of growing absolutism, it can sometimes be difficult to remember that life isn't a series of extremes. Rather, it's more about the ebbs and flows, yin and yang, drama and comedy.
In Pretty Fire, playing at Fort Worth's Jubilee Theatre, playwright Charlayne Woodard illustrates the serio-comedic nature of life through a one-woman recounting of her childhood during the Civil Rights era.
Though Ebony Marshall-Oliver and Shanidrea Evans are both cast as Woodard, the only role in the show, this particular performance reviewed featured Marshall-Oliver and will reflect on her performance specifically.
Pretty Fire is a demanding piece, a one-woman show in which the actress must play multiple roles and transition seamlessly between them for one-and-a-half hours. And to that end, Marshall-Oliver exceeds any pre-conceived expectations. Specifically, in how effectively she is able to differentiate between all of the characters, be they man or woman, young or old. Add in the sheer amount of memorization and characterization and Marshall-Oliver pulls off a stunning feat.
Of course, the source material does deserve plenty of credit.
Woodard's script flows well, transitioning from event to event very naturally. From family time in Albany, New York, to visiting grandparents in Dixie, everything feels in its place. Nothing is forced. As Woodard moves from generally carefree, even lighthearted, typical childhood moments into the play's few dark stories, it's not jarring. Whether it's in the writing or in Marshall-Oliver's performance, the end effect is that of a child, who may not fully understand what's happening to her, unable to put the pieces together.
There's an innocence to the delivery that tempers tragic events like a burning cross and a sexual assault. And if nothing else, it's so moving because Marshall-Oliver goes all out to deliver as authentic a performance as she can.
And kudos to new Jubilee artistic director, and director of the show, Tre Garrett. This show might seem simplistic on the outset. It's one character with a spare yet powerful set, bursting out of the stage (by Michael Pettigrew). David Lanza's sound design is spot on with a lot of prop and atmospheric sound effects. But, it's not an easy show to direct. Casting is paramount and a mistake there takes down the whole ship. And the simplicity of the setup could easily lull the director and crew into a daze.
It doesn't. Pretty Fire is uncomplicated, yet dynamic. Marshall-Oliver nails a virtuoso performance. Despite the negative connotation from which the title is derived in the story, Woodard, Garrett, Marshall-Oliver and everyone at Jubilee rise like a phoenix from the ashes of that fire, and use that fuel to burn brighter than ever.