“On a clear day“, is the bookend-beginning and end of this powerfully told origin tale grown strong and true on those 1943 fields of the rural South. Returning to the MTC to perform her magically powerful and engaging one woman storytelling show, Charlayne Woodard (Broadway’s Ain’t Misbehavin’; Primary Stages’ The Night Watcher) fearlessly paints with perfect strokes a stunning portrait of a young woman coming of age in America, embracing and wrapping her conflicted arm over the shoulder of her disabled aunt, Neat. The detailed journey, in distinct chapters of revelation, unpack a profound understanding of what it means to be “chocolate brown” in America, listening to the beautiful sound of snow while never forgetting the frightening stories that are dishonestly told on the televised news.
Ignoring the danger of the leopards waiting in the dark to nip at their legs, Woodard finds a ‘say it loud‘ way with subtlety, to age herself, alter herself, and realign herself inside and out, to deliver a difficult story of entrenched prejudice and racial violence. She does this with an expertise that enlightens and pulls us in, while thoroughly embracing the humanity of that awkward teenage/familial bond that helps alter her perspective of the world. A simple curiosity is delivered that shifts her senses around her snow bound feet, and pushes her to expand her vision and her historic roots.
It is a tale of tests, daily tests, that are saved and played out with cleverly delivered tales, as Woodard beautifully tries to make sense of the specialness and wonder of Neat. With no shots of their betrayed faces in the history books and on the news of the day that surround her Northern experience, the storytelling rises up, flying through the air as if Neat had wings like a dove. Spinning through tender and heartfelt constructions of teenage fashion, hairdos and pop culture, Neat flips to a fro with wisely crafted precision, etching a clear portrait that, hopefully, will undo the spell of poisonous systematic racism and open up the sky, on this certainly clear day, for us all to see. “Life doesn’t get much better than this,” she tells us, and we couldn’t agree more. “It tastes like….yeah!“
Originally produced by MTC in 1997, Charlayne Woodard returns to present her one-woman show, Neat as part of MTC’s Curtain Call. Sign up at MTC (click here to register) for the FREE stream available now through April 29.