The Acts of Faith is a collaboration between the faith and theatre communities in the Richmond area. The festival began in 2005 as a way to bring the community together in a shared discussion about faith and values. Using theatre as a vehicle to illuminate the issues and questions, the festival provides conversations about the arts and faith and encourages unity within our diverse traditions.
In addition to talkback sessions at the theatres, co-sponsoring churches, synagogues and faith communities encourage adult and youth groups to see the plays together and continue the discussions within their own faith communities.
Before It Hits Home, winner of the Helen Hayes award for New Play in 1992, is playing at Sycamore Rouge in Petersburg through March 10. Sycamore Rouge is presenting this bold and powerful story as part of the Acts of Faith Festival and is co-producing the play with Richmond Triangle Players.
Before It Hits Home tells the story of Wendal, a bisexual jazz musician who comes home to tell his family about his AIDS diagnosis. “Cheryl West’s play was very much on the cusp of a new topic when it was first written in the early 1990s, since not many people were talking about AIDS in the black community,” explains kb saine, Producing Artistic Director of Sycamore Rouge. “However, this play is as relevant now as when it was written … and the things that the family goes through will keep you thinking and talking long after the play ends.”
Director Shanea N. Taylor points out that the play is very relevant today since African Americans account for a higher percentage of HIV infections at all stages of the disease. “It is my hope that by inviting people into Wendal’s life that we are able to begin this conversation as a larger community,” said Taylor.
Already receiving strong reviews from critics after the performances at Richmond Triangle Players thus far, the play moved to Petersburg on February 22 and will run through Sunday, March 10. The Acts of Faith Talkback session will take place after the performance on Sunday, March 3.
While several of the actors are stage veterans and have also acted on the Sycamore Rouge stage, others are in Petersburg for the first time. Delvin Young plays the central role of Wendal, Toney Cobb and Belinda Todd play his parents, and Jasmine Hammond plays his girlfriend, while Thomas E. Nowlin plays Wendal’s male lover. The rest of the cast includes Karla Brown, Jennifer Krisch, Seth Lyons, Carolyn Mohr and Todd Patterson. Before It Hits Home is directed by Shanea N. Taylor, with set design by Philip Milone, costume design by Margarette Joyner, and lighting design by Andrew Bonniwell. Sharon Gregory is the stage manager.
In addition to Before It Hits Home, Cheryl West is also known for her play Jar the Floor (which played at Sycamore Rouge in 2010) and Holiday Heart (which became a Showtime movie starring Ving Rhames and Alfre Woodard).
When Before It Hits Home played at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. The Baltimore Sun (February 1, 1991 by J. Wynn Rousuck) wrote:
Cheryl West’s “Before It Hits Home” is one of the first plays about AIDS in the black community. But unlike many issue-oriented scripts, it isn’t a message-laden tirade.
… Instead, this moving drama focuses on the disease’s impact on one family — an upstanding, church-going, middle- class black family.
… The play is effective not because it preaches — which it rarely does — or because of the loaded subject of AIDS. It works because it makes the audience re-examine the nature of familial love, understanding and responsibility.
… AIDS isn’t the only illness that hits the Bailey home; it’s also afflicted by the hatred and intolerance lodged deep in a mother’s heart. “Before It Hits Home” suggests that the most damaging secret is the one we keep from ourselves.
Sycamore Rouge, a non-profit, professional theatre located in the heart of Old Towne Petersburg is celebrating its seventh season.
kb saine, Producing Artistic Director, explained, “We recently moved to a new space, and if you haven’t yet been by to see us, now is the time! After a strong fundraising campaign last summer and fall, Sycamore Rouge was able to raise the money to continue operations, and made the very wise decision to move to a smaller, more manageable theatre space. We’re now at 306 Sycamore Street (yes, right next to Longstreet’s!).”
As patrons walk in the main entrance, they will immediately see the Box Office, and further into the lobby area is the bar where people can purchase drinks and snacks. Passing through the double doors, patrons reach the theatre space, which has seating for approximately 50 people. “It’s an intimate, small space — perfect for our shows,” said kb saine. “So many people have remarked to me that it reminds them of the little theatres that are everywhere up in New York City … and we love that!”
Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. Tickets are $20 – $24 (group rate is $18) and can be purchased online at www.sycamorerouge.org or by calling the Box Office at 804-957-5707. Seating is limited, so purchasing tickets in advance is highly recommended.