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Taboo Topics Tackled in New Play

Restoration Stage Inc. Upholds Black Family

D. Kevin McNeir | 7/23/2014, 3 p.m.
Actress Suli Myrie as Dr. Adrienne Taylor gives advice to her patient, A.J., played by Clermon Acklin in "Chocolate Covered Ants." (Courtesy of Jivon Lee Jackson)

The health and overall well-being of the black family clearly rests on the relationship between men and women. And when external factors, come into play, those families often face overwhelming odds that limit their success.

One independent theater company based in Prince George's County will soon bring to the stage a play that addresses issues that plague black men and affect the women and children in their lives.

"Our mission is to restore the black family one story at a time and in the play, 'Chocolate Covered Ants,' several men get the chance to air what they've experienced and the pain they've faced for two reasons: so that their loved ones can better understand them and so they can take the first steps toward healing," said Courtney Baker-Oliver, co-founder and artistic director, Restoration Stage, Inc.

Baker-Oliver said the play seeks to counter negative stereotypes that paint all black men as thugs, worthless and expendable.

"This play is one answer to Ntozake Shange's 'For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf' in that it addresses how black men are often rendered voiceless in American society," said Baker-Oliver, 40. "People tend to fear our chocolate skin and because we're generally ignored, we can be made to feel like ants — small and powerless. But when ants, and by extension, black men, join forces they are a mighty force with which to be reckoned."

The play opens on Thursday, July 31 and continues through Sunday, August 10 at the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts in Bowie, Maryland. Restoration Stage, Inc., founded in May 2005, has received critical acclaim for its original works and remains committed to employing the talents of local performers, designers, technicians and support staff.

Playwright Steven A. Butler Jr., who wrote the play and also co-founded the company, said being an independent theater group comes with certain perks.

"We're able to talk about topics that others often fear and avoid," said Butler, 39. "August Wilson serves as my personal role model because he was never afraid to be real — his characters were people that I have known. Still, the challenge facing regional theaters like ours is to give local black talent a chance to shine instead of yielding to celebrities that may not have acting experience but can draw larger crowds and therefore greater revenue," said the Bowie resident.

Actor David Lamont Wilson said he found his role in the play challenging because of the problems his character faced as a youth.

"In 'Chocolate Covered Ants' I portray a promising hip-hop artist who had been molested by another male when he was a child," said Wilson, a resident of District Heights, Maryland. "Putting voice to one of those dark secrets that have plagued so many black men and then presenting it in an honest way that doesn't trivialize the situation nor disrespect those who have suffered under such conditions took a lot out of me."

"Sometimes those who have been victimized don't realize how broken they really are," said Wilson, 45.