By Jennifer Dunning
New York Times, Feb. 27th, 1989
“In Living Color,” a dance-theater piece presented on Saturday afternoon at the Triplex Theater, glowingly lives up to its title. Dianne McIntyre and Oyamo—respectively the choreographer and the playwright—have taken the words and songs of the people of Johns Island, S.C., and fashioned a vibrant picture of the islanders’ Gullah traditions and their fight to save them.
The setting for ”In Living Color” is the Moving Star Prayer Hall on Johns Island in February 1989. Six of the faithful have gathered to pray and talk of the past and future. As they talk, they enact the present, creating a rich tapestry of characters and issues. Li’l Bo is ruined by his fantasies about life in New York City. A young girl goes into hilarious hysterics when she discovers she is late returning home after a dance. Old Anna [played by Jeannine Otis] talks of her husband and their short but intensely loving life together.
Miss McIntyre, who also choreographed and staged ”In Living Color,” knows how to make the most of the slightest moves. A construction worker bumps into Anna [Otis] as he officiously passes her. She bends in pain, and we suddenly sense the enormity of loss she and her friends are enduring as their island is pillaged by developers. The six performers dart about the stage, unable to rest their chairs on the floor for long, and we understand better the horror of being without a home or community.
Children’s games and slyly funny folk tales are woven smoothly into the texture of the piece, as are suggestions of customs and beliefs derived from the West African tribes to which Gullah ancestors may have belonged. Similarly, spirituals and traditional songs are incorporated in Olu Dara’s vivid score for cornet, harmonica, drums, bass and guitar.
”In Living Color” could use some editing, particularly toward the end. And the ending seems pat. But the piece is a rich brew. And it is a privilege and a joy to spend this 75 minutes with the cast of superb actors, singers and dancers, which included Phillip Bond, Alexria Davis, Miles Watson, Merle Holloman, Jeanine Otis and Kathleen Sumler. The musicians, also good, were John Brown, Kevin Harris, Kwatei Quartey and the ingratiating Mr. Dara. Christian Epps designed the strong and sensitive lighting.