The excited buzz of a nearly full house vibrated the walls of the Alliance Theatre on a rather murky Sunday afternoon. But observant theater geeks in the audience could sense the excitement bleeding into the room from the cast and crew behind the curtain. House lights were set to half. Lobby lights flickered their final warning to the lingering audience members outside of the theater doors. Everyone took their seats. Stage manager Barbara Gantt O’Haley called her first cue: “Lighting standby.” “Standing by.” She paused every so slightly as she prepared to begin the world premiere of the show, making sure her cues were tight and ready to go. “Lighting go.” The house lights dimmed to zero and the respectful audience applauded. Rosemary Newcott, the director of Atlanta playwright Pearl Cleage’s highly anticipated new play “Tell Me My Dream” took to the stage to make a few remarks, giving thanks and acknowledgements. O’Haley called her next cue and the show begins.
“Tell Me My Dream” follows two students who, like the rest of us, were supposed to be members of the audience on a school trip. But Jeremy Glass (played by Jeremiah Parker-Hobbs) and Wallace Anderson (played by Stephen Ruffin) do much more than just watch the play. They get invited into the play and back in time by Mary Solomon (played by Isake Akanke), a young African-American girl from 1914 Atlanta, who also happens to possess the power of time travel. The play and dialogue accentuate the differences and similarities between 1910 Atlanta and 2015 Atlanta while also defining the relationship between the two. The boys’ adventures mirror the curiosity of a typical 2015 middle-school student who might not be aware of how they can contribute to the betterment of Atlanta or what people before them have contributed.
Pearl Cleage’s beautiful play, her first written specifically for middle schoolers, was a delight to watch. Cleage used the advice given to her by Atlanta youth who provided early feedback during the summer of 2015 and gracefully executed an appealing play that essentially accomplishes its goal. The play had emotion, humor, history and moments filled with impact. The technical aspects of the show, such as the well-executed lighting cues, astonishingly seamless set transition and the flawless audio by sound designer Clay Benning only enhanced the experience.
At times though, the dialogue seemed the slightest bit cheesy, even for middle-schoolers but it recovered well with lots of inspirational lines and rich characterizations. Some characters were stereotypical, such as Reverend James Solomon (played by Daviorr Snipes), shouting “Preach it” and “Say that!” as a stereotypical African-American clergyman would. However, due to the young age of the intended viewers, the exaggerated characterization was required and well-used.
Cleage’s play was executed beautifully and visibly pleased the audience members. The world debut of “Tell Me My Dream” is thought-provoking, delightful, funny, and a real family show that has the potential to inspire future leaders of our community, city and world.
“Tell Me My Dream” runs at the Alliance Theatre this Saturday, Nov. 7 and Sunday, Nov. 8 at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. The play will also be touring around metro area middle schools this fall. For tickets to this weekend’s public performances, go to the alliance theatre website.