OBIE Award winning The Fire This Time Festival (TFTT), in collaboration with FRIGID New York, recently launched its inaugural Alumni Spotlight to honor and amplify TFTT playwrights. The inaugural event honored Roger Q. Mason.
The night opened with Mason's short story "He Needed Help." Dealing with food addiction and family trauma, the piece featured footage of Mason in their apartment, with superimposed narration. In the post-show talkback, Mason revealed that this was a new type of art form for them, inspired by what is and isn't possible during the current pandemic.
The next piece, Hard Palate, was Mason's first piece for TFTT. Directed by Zhailon Levingston, this performance starred Travis Coles and Pierre Gonzalez as two men trying to hook up. But complicating the relationship is one man's severe anxiety, which manifests in the form of Brooke Shields. Clever, funny, and touching, it's easy to see why Hard Palate was nominated for the New York Innovative Theatre Award.
In The White Dress, Mason explores the relationship and coming of age of two genderqueer teens. In the excerpted scene performed for this event, directed by June Carryl, 16-year-old Jonathan (Adam Hyndman) seeks shelter with friend and romantic partner Winnie (Ianne Fields Stewart) after running away from home.
In Duat, the final piece, a Black man (played by Wayne Brady) is forced to admit the truth about himself in order to navigate the Egyptian afterlife. Directed by Taibai Magar, the piece was an intriguing multimedia compilation, patching Brady's keen monologue with video clips, closeups, and sound. Brady's character tells the story of his father's death with great emotion and insight, only to retract it later in favor of the true story. In the first, his father is a loving, hardworking breadwinner; in the second, he is a deadbeat having an affair. Either way, he dies in a car crash because there are no "colored beds" available for him in the hospital. Either way, Mason seems to suggest, it is a tragedy. “We are all colored," Brady's character says. "White is a color. Red. Brown. They are all colors.”
The evening also included brief appearances by some of Mason's mentors, collaborators, and fellow artists. Lynn Nottage, Mason's undergrad playwriting teacher, spoke of Mason's work as warm and witty, lyrical and full of joy, yet also unapologetically real. Actress L. Morgan Lee also described Mason as someone who doesn't shy away from truth, but somehow manages to find both the dark and light in any situation. Playwright, director, and actor Kevin R. Free described Mason as "the reincarnation of James Baldwin and Maya Angelou all rolled into one."
In the talkback, Mason expressed that the goal of theatre is to find spiritual common ground. They also offered advice to aspiring writers: Be vulnerable. Never be ashamed of the things that you think make you look weak, because those are what make you strongest, and that's what you need to write about. Based on the evening's program, it's clear that Mason does just that, with great success.
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