Arts and Entertainment
Shaw's Vibrant History, Revisited
By Washington Post
Apr 2, 2006, 15:39
By Carrie Donovan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 30, 2006; DZ03
For the second time in 10 years, local playwright Carole Mumin is serving up the entire history of Shaw in one night at the Lincoln Theatre. Written in 1995 as the neighborhood was catching its first glimpse of gentrification, "Where Eagles Fly," running tonight through April 19, celebrates the community's rich past and reminds the audience that there is more to a neighborhood than bricks and mortar.
Briefly, Ma Brown (named after Ostray Brown, a real neighborhood activist who died before the script was written) is informed by the government that her house will be torn down because of train tracks being built nearby. Her granddaughter, a Howard University student who sees Shaw as a danger zone, tries to talk her into moving out of the neighborhood. But Ma Brown won't budge. She envisions a better future for the neighborhood based on the past she knows it's been through.
Enter the historical figures.
The cast of 27, half of whom are District residents, portrays 200 years' worth of African American notables who have at some point lived in or visited Shaw since escaped and freed slaves began settling there. A few of them are Madame Evanti, the first professional black opera singer, who hosted dinners for three U.S. presidents at her house on Vermont Avenue; tap dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, who met up with musician Duke Ellington; and the Rev. Alexander Crummel, a preacher from the 1870s who incorporated civil rights ideas in his sermons against the wishes of his church's deacons.
Actress Phyllis Yvonne Stickney, who plays Ma Brown this time around, flew in from Jamaica to attend a press lunch last month in the back room of Ben's Chili Bowl on U Street NW. Her résumé includes roles in several TV shows and films, including "How Stella Got Her Groove Back," "New Jack City," "Jungle Fever," "The Autobiography of Malcolm X," "What's Love Got to Do With It" and "Die Hard With a Vengeance."
But even with her long filmography, she insists she's in Hollywood, not of it. In fact, she used to live in Shaw.
"We still had the crack -- I mean, street-corner executives," she said. "I hope a lot of the 'bling bling' society comes to see [the production] so they can see you should do more with the grill in your mouth than put gold in it."
When the producers asked her to lead the cast, they didn't have a huge budget to work with, but Stickney read the script and agreed. The great thing about being a star, she told them, is that you can do what you want.
"Eagles" was Mumin's first play. "I had to learn a new genre," said Mumin, who has since written two other plays.
The idea stemmed from an oral history project her husband, Ibrahim Mumin, the play's executive producer, worked on through a D.C. Humanities Council grant to the Shaw Project Area Committee.
Both Mumins have a long history of community involvement. Carole, a District native, is president and founder of a job-training effort called Organization for Training Others in Need, which will benefit from proceeds of the play's black-tie gala April 1. She is also a founding member of the U Street Theatre Foundation.
Ibrahim has been a Shaw resident for 30 years, since he enrolled at Howard University. His first job in Shaw was as a community organizer. He owns Mumin & Associates, a community economic development, management and public relations consulting company. He also is chairman emeritus of the Washington Region for Justice and Inclusion, an organization fighting racism. He was recognized by the D.C. Council for his community building work in 1984.
"Shaw and D.C. have changed a lot, but it's important to memorialize what went on," Carole Mumin said. "Shaw is a great neighborhood today, not just in the late 19th and 20th century."
Tickets ($38-$75) are available at the Lincoln Theatre and through Ticketmaster. Discounts are available for groups, students and seniors. For more information, visithttp://www.whereeaglesflyllc.comor call 202-939-0560.
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