Today, I went to USC to check out the play, COUNTING, written by one of the school's outstanding MFA Dramatic Writing students: AJA HOUSTON.
In the beginning of the play, I didn't know what the heck was going on. In fact, I found myself looking up at the ceiling, counting the lights and overhead microphones, looking at the audience's reactions, just looking everywhere except the stage. And ordinarily that isn't a good thing.
Truth be told, abstract works are simply not my cup of tea. That encompasses theater, film, tv, paintings, etc.
I initially didn't feel a connection to any character on the stage except for the person I came to support: AJ CLARK. AJ is in USC's MFA in Acting program. And that young man truly breathed life into his character, "Gray." He made the dude human. And the realistic humanity of a character is what captures and retains my attention.
Well, as fate would have it, I stayed put in my chair and am happy I did, because by the time the payoff came, it all made sense. Tragic sense, actually. I'd come right out and say what the play's about, but that would be a huge spoiler. This play has to take you on a ride first before that discovery.
There was a Q&A session after the performance, and the audience was encouraged to tell the playwright how, if at all, the play affected us. I spoke up and didn't hold back. I told her precisely what I thought. She was gracious and open to hearing our true thoughts. After the session concluded, I walked up to her, introduced myself, then hugged her.
Aja is undoubtedly an artist with a clear point of view. And that's precisely what the arts need. She isn't interested in spoon-feeding audiences. She wants us to think for ourselves. I get that. I applaud that. It's glaringly obvious she isn't interested in being Tyler Perry 2.0. Well, maybe financially, but most definitely not creatively.
THIS is how she describes Counting:
“Welcome to Spooks Anonymous, a fellowship of men and women young and old alike who help each other not to be feared. Welcome to The Middle, the afterlife for those who were killed for being threatening, for being Black, for being Spooks. For hundreds of years this place has existed with millions of black souls seeking redemption. Newcomer Proctor tests the veteran members Bland, Till, Martin, and Gray’s ties to each other, their beliefs and resolve to keep working the program."
I look forward to seeing her other works. And when I see the next one, I'm going to plop my butt onto a seat and open my mind to the journey she takes me on. 'Cause if all her plays provide a meaningful payoff like Counting does, checkin' 'em out is indeed worth the price of having my thoughts provoked!