A MAROON’S GUIDE TO TIME AND SPACE Gets Funky with Abolition at Catastrophic Theatre
Achieving freedom through art through June 17th.
If you had told me a couple of months ago that a theater company in Houston would present an Afrofuturism piece portraying legendary Harriet Tubman as an intergalactic space-time traveler, talkshow host, and deejay out to free the entire universe, I would never have believed you. And yet, here we are. About to discuss A MAROON’S GUIDE TO SPACE AND TIME by Candice D’Meza. The kids at Catastrophic Theatre always make the impossible possible, and they mess with the future and past all the time. This isn’t a play, it’s some sort of intergalactic space time hiccup that just happens at the MATCH complex to kick off your summer. It’s very hip, lively, and a great dose of WTF and OMG simultaneously. Like Janelle Monae says, “Girl, this is craziness. Let me tell you!”
This piece mixes together live theater, music, video montages, and all sorts of wicked conjuring to create the ultimate black girl magic. The concept is there is a Maroon Frequency which leads all people to freedom, and somehow it is speaking to Harriet Tubman during a vision she is having. Like all great prophets, the Tubman in this dimension talks to angels. Even if these are Candice D’Meza in different guises coaching her to let loose her power. She is setting in motion Diasporic African cosmologies to unleash their inner influences, and also get the audience to dance and join in along the way. It is all mind-bending performance art, but in the same breath extremely accessible.
Crystal Rae portrays the befuddled Harriet, and gives her all the grace and wisdom you would imagine. What is surprising is she also spits out a pretty good rap during the rave sequence, and brings a warm sense of humor for Tubman. She gives this character a ton of angles and nuances that fit a historical figure trapped in a funked up time space vortex. Candice D’Meza plays the enigmatic veiled Akasha in video form only, a disembodied voice guide for Harriet and the audience. Brittny Bush and Rennette E. Brown create a Greek chorus of lawyers, professors, and interdimensional alien travelers with elaborate headpieces. Both women are hysterical when they need to be, and know how to command this performance space. It’s not an easy piece to grapple with, but the all female live cast pulls it off with conviction and spirit. They feel free. Who is not so free are Byron Jacquet and Anthony August who also only appear in video form as two cellmates in a prison. They add a lot to show in their taped bits.
The set design from Afsaneh Aayani is mind bending, especially when it is joined by the light design of Hudson Davis. But what makes A MAROON’S GUIDE TO TIME AND SPACE so special is the video design of Tim Thomson and the programming of Andrew Archer. Sean Ramos creates the soundscapes. From a technical standpoint the technology is doing as much work in creating this theater as the actors. Zachary Finch directed the tech, and he must have had his hands full making all of these elements work so well.
Of course the direction overall of Mikala Gibson and Candice D’Meza is sublime, and they make sense of all of this nonsense about freedom. Afrofuturism married with performance art is a hard sell, but A MAROON’S GUIDE TO TIME AND SPACE works. The audience gets it, and they end up becoming a part of it. It reminded me of a Prince concert where I got most of the messages, but suspected something deeper was working underneath as well. The whole entire experience is a song that you know but wonder if you really understand. But you end up loving it and dancing to it anyways, and it stays with you days later. This is adventurous stuff, but it is fun and well-done. It is art. It is not a play. It is freeing.
A MAROON’S GUIDE TO TIME AND SPACE plays at the MATCH complex through June 17th. Just in time to bow before Juneteenth to celebrate freedom even further. All tickets are “pay what you can”, although I suggest a generous donation considering the level of this work. There is always a price for freedom.