A Review of “Ain’t I a Woman!”

By Robert Russell

 

Published in The Montgazette May 2019

In celebration of Black History Month, Montgomery Community College was delighted to showcase “Ain’t I a Woman!” a one-act, chamber-music, theatrical production put on by the touring theater group, The Core Assemble. The show, in its entirety, is a searing and poignant glimpse into the lives of four significant African-American women in history: Zora Neale Hurston, an influential author and anthropologist; Clementine Hunter, a self-taught and prolific artist often referred to as the black Grandma Moses; Fannie Lou Hamer, a women’s right activist and leader in the civil rights movement; and, whose speech the play is named after, Sojourner Truth, a famous abolitionist, writer, and women’s rights activist. Each prominent figure was portrayed by the one, leading actress Shinnerrie Jackson, whose performance was absolutely breathtaking. Jackson took the stage by storm, delivering incredibly moving monologues depicting everything from the mundane and seemingly banal aspects of life all the way to the horribly brutal violence endured by countless African Americans during the 19th and 20th centuries. Jackson took the audience on a roller coaster of emotion; she was absolutely captivating.

          A fantastic accompaniment to Jackson was the chamber trio of musicians that played background music for each scene. The trio, comprised of a cellist, pianist, and percussionist, played a variety of classic jazz tunes that ranged from Coltrane to Thelonious Monk, all in keeping with the contemporary atmosphere of the show. The music provided an intangible layer of sentiment to the show and emphasized elements of Jackson’s performance. In between scene changes, the band kept the music going and improvised seamless transitions. It was quite impressive. During Jackson’s performances, the band maintained a calm, underlying presence that would grow in intensity corresponding to Jackson’s monologues. The final scene climaxed in a beautiful hymn sung by Jackson that nearly brought the audience to tears.

          “Ain’t I a Woman!” surpassed any and all expectations I had to begin with. This small, four-person performance amounted to the level of professionals, virtuosos in their own degrees. Each of Jackson’s portrayals was an honest window into the societal, racial oppression that these four African American women faced during their lifetimes. Her seething, emotionally-charged soliloquies were not just paintings of four narratives but intricate, personal expressions, vivid articulations of injustice and discontent. Jackson’s voice captured the lives of these four women, and through her performance, the voices of these women were heard.

          The text of “Ain’t I a Woman!” was written by Kim Hine, writer and contributor to The Core Ensemble. The Core Ensemble was founded in 1993 and is currently touring throughout the country. They have a long list of past performances and an even longer list of accolades. For more information on The Core Ensemble and their upcoming performances, go to their website: www.coreensemble.com