Final-final-MOSAIC-logo-2-e1430944426921Mosaic Theater of Washington, DC has already seized the momentum with #narrativeengagement. Yes, the play’s the thing again. The anticipated inaugural season of Washington, D.C.’s newest addition to the region’s vibrant theater scene has started the conversation with its first two productions:

Unexplored Interior,” a new work by Jay O. Sanders about an NYU film student returning to his native Rwanda to see bloody violence that transformed a nation, and obliterated his family;

The Gospel of Lovingkindess”, a play by Marcus Gardley about gun violence in Southside Chicago through the story of one mother’s grief for her son whom after shining in the spotlight singing for President Obama and the First Lady, is shot and killed by another youth for his Air Jordan sneakers.

ida_memeI’ll be talking about the real-life anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells in the after show Q&A for “The Gospel of Lovingkindess” Tuesday, December 29. My first full-length play, “Iola’s Letter” is about the catalyst that compelled Ida B. Wells, a 29-year-old newspaper woman, to launch an anti-lynching crusade. Ida B. Wells appears as a 153 year-old-ghost in Gardley’s play. (clip is from a 1999 production of “Iola’s Letter” at Howard University with Bakesta King as Ida, Glenn Gordon (NSangou) as Mr. Fleming, Art Brooks as Rev. Nightingale, and Chadwick Boseman as Thomas Moss.

What would Ida say about genocide and gun violence?

These are two heavy and pertinent topics. It’s even difficult for me to write this post because the weightiness of daily posts on social media – another shooting death, another police shooting, refugee crisis, ethnic and religious genocide – even I go numb at this keyboard. It’s an ambitious lift for a new theater’s inaugural season. But Mosaic is built on the premise that no conversation of importance can be excluded from the stage.

Mosaic Theater Company of DC is committed to making powerful, transformational, socially-relevant art, producing plays by authors on the front lines of conflict zones and providing audiences with a dynamic new venue for the dramatizing and debating of ideas…

In other words, Mosaic does not pander.

Mosaic Theater didn’t just pop-up as so many new enterprises are doing in the city, to test their product’s chops. The theater was founded a year ago this month by Ari Roth. Depending on who you ask about the catalyst for the theater, Mosaic evolved after Roth’s firing calling departure from Theater J where he served as artistic director for 18 years. Theater J is a major player in Washington, D.C.’s theater community. Roth was instrumental in making theater engaging, encouraging a conversation between the plays and the audience. The Theater J series included public readings, workshop conversations and dialogues, and “Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival”. Housed in the Washington, DC Jewish Community Center, Theater J has a dedicated subscriber base of JCC members and others.

Not everyone vibed with Roth’s vision to expand the dialogue to reflect all views around conflicts in the Middle East. “Voices From a Changing Middle East” and the Peace Café discussion group co-founded by Roth and Andy Shallal (Busboys and Poets, Eatonville) were casualties of JCC and Theater J’s leadership conflicts according to the Washington Post’s Nelson Pressley.

One year later, both theaters have moved on. Theater J has a new artistic director, Adam Immerwarh, and another season of plays for the theatergoing public. Mosaic Theater has taken residency in the Atlas Theater on H Street, NE. Theater with sponsorships and grants to bring in some of the area’s best dramatic talent. Jennifer L. Nelson is its resident director who transforms “The Gospel of Lovingkindess” into a theatrical canvas of sight and sound. And Serge Seiden has moved east of the city from Studio Theatre.

The Voices festival launches in January featuring 4 plays. Clikc on this link for the series:

All plays include extensive engagement events and community dialogues. You can also eat dinner before the show at one of the many new restaurants, pubs etc. Feed your curiosity, heart, mind, and soul after.

The nation’s capital can use a theater that may better inform and engage the deciders and the undecided. Mosaic is connecting between community, place, policy, practice.

(L to R) Erica Chamblee as Ida B. Wells and Manu H. Kumasi as Noel in "The Gospel of Lovingkindness" at Mosaic Theater
(L to R) Erica Chamblee as Ida B. Wells and Manu H. Kumasi as Noel in “The Gospel of Lovingkindness” at Mosaic Theater
This holiday, I couldn’t avoid the tragic news of violence and death posted on social media every day depending on who your friends are. Neither was I anticipating a gleeful night at the theater to see “The Gospel of Lovingkindess”. Had it not been in preparation for the after0-show discussion December 29, I may have avoided this conversation. The drama occurs near Christmas, a time I’m either haunted by the ghosts of Christmas past, overwhelmed by winter’s darkness, or overjoyed by the promise of possibilities. I didn’t want this play to bring that last party down. Yet to my surprise, the play had a message of hope for me.

So I decided to skip seeing “Chi-raq” instead and avoid conversations on the artistic merits and choices of a film sealed and delivered. Though the topic is all part of the same conversation.

When Ida B. Wells was investigating lynching, she called it a “heinous crime.” In “The Gospel of Lovingkindess” the evil that men do calls women to activism, to organize. It called Ida B. Wells. Who else will be called?