By Drew Barker
Up Stage Cabaret - Triad Stage
If you’re expecting a biography on the life of Miles Davis through the eyes of past lovers, forget it. What’s worse, “Mad at Miles” may make you flinch just a bit next time you reach for “Filles De Kilimanjaro” or “Kind of Blue.” You might even be tempted to scratch it.
The three-woman, one act play, “Mad at Miles” plays out more like its subtitle: “A Blackwoman’s Guide to Truth” in the UpStage Cabaret at Triad Stage. It makes the recent Blockbuster “He’s Just Not That Into You” look like a girl scout meeting.
No, “Mad at Miles” walks in stiletto combat boot heels all over that fine line between racism and sexism, genius men and the women who love them, and the stories that sting you awake to the brutal truth of domestic violence.
Recent headlines of love gone violently wrong make it impossible to dismiss as the least of America’s problems right now. On the same night a tearful Jennifer Hudson won her first Grammy, news headlines started to crawl about the alleged Rhianna and Chris Brown incident on the way to the Grammy event. And when those headlines are gone, there’s this one: Every day four women in America die from the hand of a lover.
And while love-turned-hate isn’t limited to genius lovers — such as the fatal shooting of Marvin Gaye by his father — “Mad at Miles” is a kind of a “Vagina Monologues” take on shocking women awake to the truth of domestic violence. And if the “v-word” makes you squirm, this might not be the right play for you.
The only reference to Davis was made when the three women retell a story from a Davis biography about the night he laughed with cops upstairs while girlfriend Cicely Tyson hid in the basement, slapped into silence after Davis hit her.
The play’s three characters wither and rise with vignettes like this, delivered in beat poet-inspired dialogue and wincing observations. More than once, I felt chills go through my legs and spine as playwright Pearl Cleage exposed a demagogue.
Directed by Donna Baldwin-Bradby, the play moves like a synchronized interpretive dance without ever interfering with the dialogue. A mix of recorded and live music, original artworks for a stage set, and performances ranging from explosive to tender from Tennille Foust, Jamila Curry, and TaNisha Shavonne Fordham made it impossible to look away.
There was, only one point, when I struggled over whether to listen to the dialogue or “So What” playing softly in the background.
Cleage’s hilarious commentary on the foibles and flaws of love kept it far from being a straight-up feminist festival. Whether domestic violence is your story or not, you’ll relate to something.
Like why we all — not just women — forgive genius of any kind, choosing instead to play a broken record of war, or business, or flawed leadership again, and again, hoping maybe this time, the rekkid don’t skip.
I mean come on. Just because he hit a woman, you can’t stay mad at Miles, right?
For a closer look at the set, check out Drew Barker’s blog, Inside Triad Stage.