Ground Floor Theatre's black do crack

In this new solo show, writer-performer Florinda Bryant shatters the myth that black women must go it alone

Florinda Bryant in <i>black do crack</i>
Florinda Bryant in black do crack (Photo by Tia Boyd)

The woman stands alone, still, caught in bursts of light like emergency flashers in a facility on lockdown. Sounds of phones ringing and fingers clattering on keyboards, amplified to harsh levels, almost drown out her voice as she runs through a string of phrases that seem related to daily routines: a question she asks when answering the phone on the job, a query of a co-worker on break. She's smiling as she asks the unseen caller, "How can I help you today?" and the cheeriness appears sincere, but there's also a tension evident behind it, a sense of this woman working to hold it together in the face of the punishing noise and glare. And as it goes on and on, and the same scene is repeated again and again, it becomes clear that the biggest part of her daily routine is the pressure, the relentless force pressing down on this woman, squeezing the breath out of her, the very life.

But then, to describe it as a single force doesn't do justice to the stress this woman – this black woman, it must be noted – is under; it is not one force but many forces: sexism and racism, most often in a toxic mix; single parenting; poverty; life-threatening medical conditions (which can't be treated properly because of the poverty); and a lifetime of being told that she is expected to "keep on pushing on" with no help, except whatever God may provide.

In black do crack, a new solo work that Florinda Bryant seems to have written in her own blood, the strains she depicts are at once deeply personal and representative of black women throughout this land. When Bryant speaks bitterly of being passed over by a white supervisor while white women with less experience receive raises and promotions, you can easily imagine this being drawn from the writer-performer's own life and from the lives of countless peers of hers. The same goes for her tales of working multiple jobs just to keep her children fed, the painful decision to skip buying medicine that she needs for her high blood pressure because she needs the money for her family, of having to skip work to care for a child and being punished for it when white co-workers with kids never are. When Bryant stands soaked in red light, balling her fists and letting fly a scream of rage, we can see hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of black women in the shadows behind her, and she is no more alone when she shows herself numbing her pain, pulling from her bra bottles of booze, and then a cigarette, and then cocaine.

In giving voice and presence to these cruelties crushing African-American women, black do crack is powerful enough. But the situation it addresses that makes it still more potent – and vital, to borrow a term from an audience member at the performance I saw – is black women believing that they must shoulder their burdens alone, without aid, and that doing otherwise is to be weak or, worse, mentally unsound. "I'm not crazy," Bryant insists to an unseen therapist when her character seeks counseling, and the defensiveness in her voice is heartbreaking. Of course, she isn't – but that's the message that's been hammered home inside the culture for as long as she's been alive: Black don't crack. With this work, Bryant aims to shatter that myth, to shout that it's time to reach out and find support and assistance. As the show ends, Bryant has turned from the notion that, because her life is so hard, God must not love her to the belief that love is there and waiting. She stands confidently in the spotlight, and though she may stand by herself on the stage, she knows – and we know – she is surrounded by helping hands.


black do crack

Ground Floor Theatre, 979 Springdale
www.groundfloortheatre.org
Through March 2
Running time: 1 hr.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Ground Floor Theatre
Ground Floor Theatre's <i>Fun Home</i>
Ground Floor Theatre's Fun Home
Lisa Scheps' production is invested with a level of care that makes this musical memoir movingly familiar

Trey Gutierrez, Dec. 14, 2018

Jason Phelps & Co.'s <i>Landfallen – the lost and found</i>
Jason Phelps & Co.'s Landfallen – the lost and found
This new work of dance-theatre takes us on journeys through wild wastes and personal histories, but leaves us in a place of hope

Robert Faires, Sept. 7, 2018

More Arts Reviews
Dance Repertory Theatre's <i>Fortitude</i>
Dance Repertory Theatre's Fortitude
In this spring concert, a profound and moving tribute to a missing member of the Theatre & Dance Department community

Robert Faires, March 22, 2019

"Stella Alesi: Journeying" at Prizer Arts & Letters
The artist extends her protean skills toward the bold and minimal

Wayne Alan Brenner, March 22, 2019

More by Robert Faires
Draylen Mason Is Still Being Remembered, and How Matters
Draylen Mason Is Still Being Remembered, and How Matters
A year after his death, we should do as Draylen did

March 22, 2019

Batman’s Iconic Emblem Lights up Lady Bird Lake for Caped Crusader’s 80th Anniversary
Batman’s Iconic Emblem Lights up Lady Bird Lake for Caped Crusader’s 80th Anniversary
Congress Ave. Bridge and its resident bats proved the perfect backdrop

March 18, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Ground Floor Theatre, Florinda Bryant

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle