Endesha Ida Mae Holland’s From the Mississippi Delta is one of those plays in which the storytelling is so vivid and so deceptively simple.
No wonder actors and directors love it.
The second Fort Worth production of it this decade, courtesy of DVA Productions, kicks off the group’s fifth season. The other production was done in 2010 by Jubilee Theatre when Ed Smith was the artistic director there.
Interestingly, Smith directed the original production of the play, based on Holland’s memoir, in the 1980s. (Dallas’ Soul Rep Theatre Company did the show in the ’90s.)
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At DVA, produced in the Sanders Theatre at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center, artistic director Sheran Keyton has scored a coup in snagging popular local actress Liz Mikel to join her in the three-person play. The other actress is newcomer Alexandria Ezell.
The three play multiple characters — of both genders, as well as being white and black — as they tell stories from Holland’s life. She grew up in the Jim Crow South, and she has stories of living with joy and pain and eventually discovering the importance of education and fighting for what you believe in.
It’s an engaging piece of theater, and while this production, directed by Tyrone King, could use tightening up, the performances are the selling point.
Mikel is at her best as “Aint Baby,” a character everyone looks up to and misses after her tragic, and oddly inspiring, death.
In a wonderful bit of physical comedy, Ezell sells a humorous moment at the funeral. Keyton’s best role is a woman who won’t let anyone step on her water meter in her yard.
Another strong point for this production is that it requires some singing of gospel and blues, and you just can’t get better than the duo of Keyton and Mikel on the same stage.
The action is spread out across a series of long stages and black fabric that serves as doors in a set by Dave Ruffin. A different configuration in the Sanders, like a corner staging, would have done wonders for the show’s intimacy.
The show ends with a poignant reading of a letter that Holland wrote to Alice Walker before Walker won a Pulitzer Prize. One writer and activist inspiring another.
That’s how the flame stays lit, and how it is passed on to another generation. Just like this play.