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Looking for all the answers in ‘Where We Stand’

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"Where We Stand,” a lyrical journey into community and personal responsibility, makes a unique statement on the complexities of the human heart.

The form of this piece is as old as walking on two legs. We gather to hear one person tell a story.

The simplicity of the method is a stark reminder that great art need not be extravagant, and that all too often, the elaborations of contemporary stagecraft are much like that wizard blowing smoke in the jolly old land of Oz.

“Where We Stand,” by Donnetta Lavinia Grays, permits no such distractions.

Like a budding flower, “Where We Stand” uses simplicity to render itself whole. This one-person show contains multitudes.

It begins with a resonant humming — as if from far away — and ends with a requirement that the audience do more than just listen, laugh or applaud.

Don’t be alarmed. You will want to do your part. Though the Women’s Project production frames this performance as a “town hall meeting,” offering (quite decent) coffee and doughnuts, “Where We Stand” does not cajole us to participate, or step into the action.

It is much too primal and mesmerizing for that.

Tamilla Woodard briskly directs the production. Her touch is difficult to quantify as, on the night I witnessed it, her piece is given astonishing performance life by its author, Grays.

The program states that David Ryan Smith will lead some performances.

He has a tough challenge, to equal the mastery of Grays here. She gives us quirky characters, dreamy visions, and the frustrations of people on the margins, that invisible chorus we might never acknowledge, but whose understanding of the currency of emotions, class and character grants them an astute viewpoint.

We in the audience are included, as inhabitants of this universal town, where life tumbles on, capriciously down the generations.

The writing is impressionistic and poetic, in verse and not, in couplets and not, but always supple and vivid, alive, present and active on a quest all its own. Grays lives it fully, and carries us along.

The native strains of the African American experience are here, as is the music of the spoken word and the uplift of gospel. But those powerful engines are just a part of the clear force and commitment in Gray’s performance.

This is not a piece about race or religion or gripes or dreams, but rather a zoom lens onto the practical everyday connections that are lost or left unnoticed in the distractions of our everyday world.

Yes, a town is described, and we meet its citizens. But it is a kind of living montage, a lyrical one, with all the immediacy and force of a dream.

And, thus summoned for an emergency meeting on a mystical village green, we witness Grays unveil a mirror on the moral challenge of living in society.

On a bare stage, and with no mention of 2020, “Where We Stand” precisely locates the challenging unity of its title.

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