The musical A Place to Stand, written and directed by St. Philip’s instructor Vincent Hardy, opens with a distraught mother, Mrs. Patrice Parham (Michelle Burnett), standing next to her daughter, Angelie (Brianne Richardson), who is lying unconscious on a hospital bed.
From this tragic moment in the play, which opened March 27 at St. Philip’s, we move into the distant, as well as recent, past to discover how mother and daughter came to this place and the many challenges the single-parent African-American family has faced. Burnett, in a bittersweet song, “Little Girl,” reveals that she and her daughter have grown apart, and her heart is now breaking.
Mrs. Parham is also estranged from her older son, Nathan (Roosevelt Bradley), and trying to keep her youngest, Caliph (Kenneth Hemmans), from following in his brother’s footsteps. Nathan is selling drugs and hanging out with a friend named Heaven (Glen Scallion Jr.) who is anything but: This street-wise young man is the classic “bad influence” every mother fears. Heaven will play hell with her daughter as well.
But all must not be taken at face value, and Hardy, teacher and coordinator of the theater program at St. Philip’s, tells a compelling story, backed up by song and dance choreographed by St. Philip’s dance professor Georgina Morgan.
Jake Owen, composer and guitar player in the band that accompanies the crew, offers a striking array of musical styles, from pop to funk to jazz and rap. All of it is good and listenable, the band well-rehearsed. At times, though, during Sunday’s performance, it overpowered the softer singing voices. (This could have been a technical problem with one of the stage mics.)
Some of the songs went beyond good to captivating. One example was “Just a Child,” a solo by Hemmans. It was plaintive and believable, revealing Caliph as the forgotten child. Hemmans presented it beautifully.
In another powerful scene, Mrs. Parham’s husband, Eli (Andrew Jacobi Jeter), who left years ago, appears in the thoughts of the now-listening wife. In a song, “I Have to Go,” he assures her of his love, but says that it was her disappointment in him that caused him to leave; it was more than he could bear.
Mrs. Parham, in contrast, succeeds in showing the distress and struggles of a strong woman, wise to the world and utterly loving of her children. Burnett’s fine singing voice also was a pleasure to hear.
There are areas where the play might have been tightened, the playwright’s voice better directed through actors other than history professor Dr. Headly (the playwright, Hardy). Hardy is a strong actor and singer, but some of this character’s soliloquies, while certainly offering cogent thoughts, tended toward ponderous. His dream sequence (nightmare, really) addressing issues with college administrators might be more effectively used in another play entirely.
A Place to Stand will leave you with much to consider, however, and just possibly humming one of Owen’s good tunes. •