By Mehr Gunawardena
From the moment this performance began to the moment it ended, I was covered in goosebumps. Even writing about it now, I still have goosebumps from Richarda Abrams’ transcending performance and the musicality of the direction. This entire show was interweaved with music that embodied the faith and willpower felt by slaves and Ms. Bethune’s family. This is a powerful and emotional piece that educated us all in faith, and many of us in history.
First, I must thank Richarda Abrams for her performance. She switched between her characters seamlessly and committed every molecule of her body to that character. I was taken aback to see this woman become unrecognizable as she shifted personas. She made the script dynamic while teaching us the importance of history and knowing what we have accomplished thus far.
Ms. Bethune laments about how her parents were stolen from Africa, and how she struggled to educate herself and other African Americans. She tells us anecdotes that instill the importance of faith – not in God necessarily, but in oneself. The audience hummed “uh-huhs” and “hmmm-humms” in agreement to Ms. Bethune’s insights. The audience roared in laughter at her jokes, some of which were satirical commentaries on today’s political climate. Ms. Bethune also stunned the audience with silence. She touched upon crucial topics and made them stick, even with her perfect dose of comic relief.
The script was eloquent and illustrated the complexities of Ms. Bethune’s journey to become an educator, stateswoman, philanthropist, humanitarian, and civil rights activist. Her journey began with her parents, slaves on a cotton plantation, and her 16 siblings. It ended with her being appointed the director of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s division of Negro Affairs for the National Youth Administration, and serving on his Black Cabinet. Later, President Truman appointed her to a position that allowed her to finally go to Africa (Liberia) to serve on a committee on national defense, an accomplishment she would have never achieved without faith. As she says, “without faith, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible.”
At the end of the performance, the audience shared a moment of faith, singing, “This Little Light of Mine” together. The space cascaded with hope and faith for a better tomorrow. This led to a standing ovation from everyone in the audience who could stand. The performance lifted us up and left us feeling empowered to continue fighting for a better world for all people.
“First By Faith: The Life Of Mary McLeod Bethune”
Written and Performed by Richarda Abrams
Oct. 7 at 6pm, Oct. 13 at 9pm
Director: Dina Vovsi
Photo: courtesy of the production
Workshopped at NYC’s Actors Studio before its presentation at United Solo 2018
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
MEHR GUNAWARDENA is a writer from Sri Lanka who pursued her education and ambition in the United States. During her time at Clark University, she began experimenting with form and structure to make her writing as accessible as possible to all readers, while keeping true to her voice. She enjoys writing poetry and other fictional pieces with political and societal nuances, and is therefore drawn towards art with similar intentions.