Lessons learned and souls laid bare in new play

Director Bette Howard irons out the last few wrinkles in her production during rehearsals. Photo by Rich Bockmann
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A circle of black women over 70 enjoys a day at the spa, and as the steam opens their pores they lay bare their true selves to each other in an original play set to premiere this weekend at the Black Spectrum Theatre in St. Albans.

“Shared Secrets” was adapted from a book penned by Betty Dopson, co-chair of the South Ozone Park-based Committee to Eliminate Media Offensive to African People, chronicling the true struggles and achievements of seven “elder sisters” in their personal and political lives.

Producer and Black Spectrum Theater Director Carl Clay said he and playwright Celeste Bedford-Walker chose to set Dopson’s non-fiction narrative in a women’s spa as a metaphor for the rejuvenating effects of opening up and sharing with one another.

“As the oils and the steam start to get applied, they start remembering things,” he said. “All seven women begin to relate stories of their families, their husbands — of love and loss and children, issues of social justice and work, pains they never told before.”

The subjects of Dopson’s book — including the former vice chairwoman of the state Board of Regents, Adelaide Sanford, as well as “Shaft” actress, poet and social activist Camille Yarbrough — are ones Clay said he felt needed to be celebrated in an age when society puts a premium on youth culture and either denigrates or overlooks the contributions of elders.

“When I read it, I was like, ‘Wow, these are some really extraordinary stories, the kind of stories that need to be told,’” he said.

Brandii Banks plays Kamar, the 20-year old spa attendee absorbed with her headphones and the latest hip-hop video, who after opening her ears to the women’s stories reconsiders her forgotten dream of becoming a lawyer.

“She realizes these women are trying to give her a lot of wisdom as far as who she is as a young black woman,” she said.

During rehearsals last weekend at the theater, across from 177th Street on Baisley Boulevard, Director Bette Howard said the elders range in age from 78 to 101.

“They’re celebrating their maturity and their youth,” she said, adding that almost all of the women have lost at least one husband. “Some have a lot of pain, but they’re still very strong. They haven’t given up.”

“Shared Secrets” features the performances of Vanessa Pringrle, Frances McAlpine-Sharp, Yaa Asantewaa, Marcha Tracey, Diane Dixon, Bonnie Davis, Brandii Banks and Lisa Roxanne Walters.

The play is scheduled to open Saturday at 8 p.m. and run through April 15. Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling 718-723-1800.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 6:55 pm, March 21, 2012
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