A dim of the lights, a whip of a snare drum, the eerie strum of a cello. On stage, a single man takes the form of many; inhabits the psyche of an artist, a poet, a dreamer, a legend. Even with your eyes shut, you could still capture the same essence of the performance spilling onto the threshold before you. My eyes, however, remained fixed to the stage, as the so-called ‘Vignettes of the Harlem Renaissance’ unfolded. Instantly transporting the audience to 1930s New York, the blend of theater and chamber music that is ‘Of Ebony Embers’ brought not only dynamic yet calming music to the Rowe Recital Hall the night of Valentine’s Day, but also a captivating portrait of what the month of February is truly about: Black History.
With the desire to catch at least one theater performance on campus before the semester slipped away bringing me to Rowe Recital Hall this breezy Spring night, my thoughts on my architecture studies and the distant despair of spending yet another Valentine’s Day alone quickly dissipated as I sat down. Drawing to my love of music, as well as the crisp and unexpected vibrance of theater, I was whisked into the 1930s and its alluring history almost effortlessly by this intriguing and essential performance. As a trio of musicians flooded the room with the sounds of Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn and countless other jazz giants of the era, a single, vibrational voice echoed from the stage. Speaking of past legends, poetic greats and the triumphs and tribulations of the Harlem Renaissance, this voice broke the silence and stress of my night and urged to me to focus in.
The voice was none other than actor Dracyn Blount, conjuring the mindset of muralist and painter Aaron Douglas as he began the show. Inviting us to peek into the 1930s, an era of rising African-American artists and innovators struggling to make their voices heard, Blount (as Douglas) trained his focus on his narrative — the honoring of two Renaissance legends, Wallace Thurman and Rudolf Fisher. Interrogating the lives of the two men, both who had passed just that December in 1934, this half-tribute, half-deconstruction of black history in America commenced.
With the story jumping from one perspective to the next, as Blount adopted the mannerisms and charisma of fellow Harlem giants like Claude McKay, Countee Cullen and finally influential poet Langston Hughes, I was soon submerged in both the passion and peril of the artists of the era. With an ernest tone in his voice as he accounted the lives of these men, Blount managed to accompany the breathtaking chamber music of the performance with an equally endearing and sensational tale of heritage and harmony.
Breathing fresh life into these real characters by honoring them and breaking them apart, Dracyn Blount painted a fantastic portrait of the importance of the Harlem Renaissance, as well as its influence on the history of African-Americans and their voice as a people. With beautifully-crafted music floating in the air, and the voice of a single black man evoking the emotions of past legends alive again, ‘Of Ebony Embers’ not only reignited the fiery passion and monumental purpose that rose from the Harlem Renaissance, but also investigated the immense history of African-American culture as to keep it from becoming a past forgotten by time.
Directed by Rosa Rodriguez, ‘Of Ebony Embers: Vignettes of the Harlem Renaissance’ is written by Akin Babatunde and produced by the Core Ensemble. Original Stage Adaptation by Saundra McClain. This UNC Charlotte production starred actor Dracyn Blount and featured musicians Ju Young Lee, David Berry, and Michael Parola.
For more information on ‘Of Ebony Embers’, visit http://www.coreensemble.com/shows-on-tour/of-ebony-embers/