By Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson
Monday, 10 November 2014.
literature events, book slams and reading groups proliferate in London, the
literary salon experience is a fairly new one in the capital [to this
reviewer’s knowledge anyway]. It’s an innovation that in hands as capable as
Charles Reese and Paulette Harris-German is certain to take off though.
That’s because the intimate and
minimalist Upper Parlour above The Mango Room Restaurant in tourist-magnet
Camden Town is an ideal setting for Reese’s entertaining presence. And this whitewashed
walls - adorned with art - and high-ceilinged space encourages the relaxed
interaction the experienced performer thrives on.
Introduced by the statuesque and
elegant Harris-German of M.E.E. & The Village Productions International,
co-producers of this UK premier with Dappers & Divas boutique, the enthusiastic
audience members are here to learn about James Baldwin: A Soul on Fire.
Written by the late Emmy Award
nominee, poet and playwright, Howard B. Simon, the play, originally performed
in New York in 1999, explores renowned writer Baldwin’s participation in the
little heard of 1963 Secret Summit. That roundtable discussion saw Baldwin -
together with African American intellectuals Lorraine Hansberry, Lena Horne,
Harry Belafonte, Dr. Kenneth Clark, and Jerome Smith [a young freedom rider]
discuss enduring United States racism with then Attorney General Robert F.
Kennedy. Taking place three months before the March on Washington for Jobs and
Freedom at which Martin Luther King delivered his now-famous ‘I have a dream
speech’, Reese suggests that the
meeting between these leaders and President John F Kennedy’s brother infused a
reciprocal energy to the African American movement for human rights.
It’s an energy the effervescent
and gregarious actor embodies as - wearing a traditional two-piece West African
inspired outfit - he recalled several significant events of that same year –
the centenary of the US emancipation proclamation; Martin Luther King’s ‘dream’
speech; the Birmingham, Alabama church bombings in which four African American
girls were murdered in a US-state sponsored terrorist attack [commemorated in
Spike Lee’s moving documentary]; and the assassination of John F Kennedy.
The articulate and self-assured
Reese is confidence personified as - with his resonant baritone speaking voice –
his relaxed preacher-style, which invigorates the audience. Demonstrating his
natural charm and assured stage presence the well known thespian invites, and
receives, a one word summation of his performance from all present. Each was
positive and encouraging – and genuinely captured the mood of the evening.
Bringing the story right up to
date, and with a London link – Reese reminds us that Forrest McClendon -
currently starring in the hit musical The Scottsboro Boys at the Garrick
Theatre until February 2015 - played the role of Ethereal in the play - and
also wrote an afterword for A Soul on
Reese, also known as a Cultural
Architect for Public Engagement (C.A.P.E.), whose mission is to keep the spirit
of James Baldwin alive in this “new, transmedia-ready, global generation”, will
be appearing today, Monday, November 10,
2014, in the Upstairs Room at the Market House Lounge. 443
Coldharbour Lane, London SW9 8LN
Time: 6pm - 9pm. Admission: £ 3.
Be sure to catch him. In
one word – it’s captivating.
You can also visit www.jamesbaldwinasoulonfire.com
for more information on Reese (editor for the book), the play, and
upcoming book salon events.
Baldwin: A Soul on Fire is available now in London, UK
at Book and Kitchen in Ladbroke Grove.
Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson is a London based arts editor, writer and journalist
He writes about
political, social and cultural issues. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org.
The James Baldwin Literary & Conversation Salon Series
Monday November 10 2014
Time: 6pm - 9pm
The Upstairs Room at the Market House Lounge
443 Coldharbour Lane
London SW9 8LN