words by Melanie Anderson; photos by Emily Durway

“What happens to a dream deferred?” asked Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes in the 1951 poem that inspired the play “A Raisin in the Sun.” He presents several possible outcomes for the deferred dream, ending with the question, “Or does it explode?”

Drawing from the questions of this poem and the play it inspired, Akron-based Ma’Sue Productions presents an original play, “Or Does It Explode?” Director John Dayo Aliya originally co-wrote the play alongside John Smith, around the time of the shooting of Trayvon Martin, before Black Lives Matter and the events that would unfold over the following years. Now, at the dawn of 2017, a year shrouded in uncertainty, Aliya has rewritten the play to reflect the events and feelings that have built up since the time it was first written and performed.

“Right now, for me, is a time of anger and confusion, but mostly deep and profound hurt,” Aliya says. “This show reflects that spirit.”

He has rewritten the play with the goal of dealing with “what it means to be caught at the intersection of being black, male, and American in 2017 as unflinchingly and painstakingly as possible.”  

Actors Deandre Hairston Karim, Dontez James, Tames Hilton, and Joshua Woodson. Photo by Emily Durway.

The play, starring four young black male actors, utilizes various art forms in a series of vignettes which each present a different perspective on what it is to be a black male in America.  The creators have drawn from various sources of inspiration, from the chorus of Greek dramas to the more contemporary piece, Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide: When the Rainbow is Enuf,” and have combined poetry, music, traditional monologues, and choreographed movement to tackle difficult subjects in an artistic and moving way. The choice to address the difficult subject matter through art is noteworthy.  Aliya states that art is an important instrument for change, and it is, “above all, a communicative and educational tool. The way we tell stories about who we are and the world we live in. It is how we make ourselves known to one another.”

While the play addresses matters that are being faced by black men across the country, the content is unique and specific to Akron.  Aliya, a native of Akron, has drawn most of the stories in this show from his own experiences or from those of people close to him within the community.  The play features real people and places of Akron. However, viewers can expect to see a broader perspective than the university and art scene.

“Akron is not just downtown or Highland Square to me. Akron is sometimes a hard place for me to love,” Aliya confessed, “because I am very much aware of a lot of the abject misery here. Many of the people I grew up close to did not make it to thirty due to the problems of the community here.  This show represents those people and those of us living in the aftermath of the countless tragedies.”

Vince Tyree and John Dayo Aliya. Photo by Emily Durway.

Aliya hopes that his work can help to make things better for people living on the edges of the city. He hopes that it will inspire the people of Akron who don’t feel associated with the art scene to find and create channels to present their work, and that it will bring about a change to the segregation he often sees between white and black communities.  

He hopes that audiences will be challenged by the production. He wants people to leave the performance with questions, “not so much about the show,” he says, “but about the way we live. About what it means to be American. About what does it mean to do justice to one another.”

“Or Does It Explode?” will run from February 3 through February 27 at the Balch Street Theater in Akron.  Tickets can be found at ordoesitexplode2.brownpapertickets.com.

(Photos by Emily Durway)

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