Theatre Review: The Black Feminist Guide to the Human Body

Lisa B. Thompson creates a community space with “choreopoem”

(l-r): Nadine Mozon, Hayley Armstrong, and Sadé M. Jones in The Black Feminist Guide to the Human Body (Photo by Errich Petersen)

“This is a show by, about, and for Black girls.”

The character of Soul utters this over halfway through the Vortex and Fusebox Festival’s world premiere of The Black Feminist Guide to the Human Body, but we need to hear it now. It has to begin this review. It needs to be shouted from mountains and rivers and yes, these pages. Because this production, while valuable to all, is for the Black girls. It’s not here to educate white folk or carefully teach certain ways to foreign parties. It has a message. Others may view it, but it is not for them.

Playwright and certified academic Lisa B. Thompson first introduced The Black Feminist Guide to the Human Body as a short “choreopoem” at festivals before expanding to its current form. The plot, as it is, follows Dr. Beatrice “Bea” Free (Nadine Mozon), a tenured professor trying to create a feminist guide to the aging body. She’s noticed a lack of curiosity and stories about older Black women. Joined by personified versions of Cee Cee/Body (Sadé M. Jones) and Dee/Soul (Hayley Armstrong), Dr. Free takes on the logical role of Mind and explores the depth of the body through a Black Feminist lens.

I say “as it is” about the plot, because this is not plot-driven theatre. Guide is art theatre, a complete glory of words and movement as a journey. It’s not a complex story to get lost in – it’s a sermon, but in the best and most uplifting use of that word. It’s revival. It’s meant to reach into your soul and unlock something real, something urgent that could never be expressed. By making incredible use of audio clips, visuals, words, song, movement, it distills practically every art form into a pure thematic expression: The body is an archive. And this archive screams for healing.

Photo by Errich Petersen

Throughout the work, Guide ponders mainstay worries for women – fear of aging, a constant lack of respect, beauty standards, feeling ugly, sickness, and health care. Everybody has experienced these things in a way, but for some (*cough* Black women *cough*) it hurts worse. The three characters converse over memories of hairstyles, or the ways their body has changed with age, or sorrow at the women they knew who never stopped working and died too soon. Topics flow like a sacred river, accompanied by songs or rhymes or the occasional dance break. Sometimes Dee simply stops and hauntingly sings against a changing backdrop of photos. Sometimes the triad performs a Double Dutch pantomime circling around the stage. Sometimes, there’s just stillness as they sit with an uttered truth.

The ability to hold these complicated emotions – and build on them – reigns supreme and admirable throughout the production. There are moments of peaceful sorrow and joyful rage, Zen meditations while pondering the immense losses in the community, rampages against hatred and cruelty while performing exuberant dance numbers or the best playground rhymes you’ve ever heard. Calling it a “choreopoem” was a stroke of genius. Thompson’s script is deep, memory-based poetry. Raw and rooted from the secret spots of the soul.

At the end, after bows and an emotional dance party, playwright Lisa B. Thompson addressed the crowd. She quickly called out the allies in the audience, urging them to “buy a Black woman a ticket, so she can get this food.” Judging from the enthusiastic responses from the audience alone, this is nourishment indeed. So I pass along her message. Let the beautiful, sad, joyous women in your life feast on this wisdom.

The Black Feminist Guide to the Human Body


Through May 4

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Lisa B. Thompson, The Black Feminist Guide to the Body, VORTEX, Fusebox, Sadé M. Jones, Hayley Armstrong , Nadine Mozon

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