Take play break from economy

With rising unemployment numbers and mortgage foreclosures coupled with a recession that hasn't yet hit bottom, this may be the perfect time to let a little sunshine burn through the clouds.

Excerpts from a one-woman play in Frankfort on Friday and the stage adaptation of a young reader's book could fit that bill quite nicely.

Neither can be considered totally mindless fare, but they could be entertaining diversions.

On March 20 at Kentucky State University, Sheryl Lee Ralph, a Tony Award nominee for Best Actress in 1982, will present scenes from Sometimes I Cry, a collection of personal stories she has gathered from women who have HIV/AIDS.

On stage, Ralph created the role of Deena Jones in Dreamgirls. She also has starred opposite Denzel Washington and Robert De Niro. She has had roles on Moesha and ER and starred as a transsexual on Showtime's Barbershop.

Her one-woman play is part of the Frankfort Arts Foundation's 2008-2009 arts and cultural season series and is presented by the foundation and KSU.

Although the subject matter might not seem to be a good diversion from today's economic news, Vernell Bennett, interim assistant vice president for student affairs and associate professor of music at KSU, said it is "powerful and sure to leave a lasting impression."

Bennett saw excerpts from the play in Seattle during the summer while she and past foundation president Betty Gibson attended The Links Inc. National Conference. They were so impressed, Gibson asked the foundation to try to get it on the schedule.

"This is almost a miracle," said Patricia Terry Vansant, executive director of the foundation. "She is not appearing anywhere else in Kentucky. Alabama is the closest state."

Written, directed and performed by Ralph, the play features diverse characters including a 45-year-old businesswoman and a 68-year-old grandmother.

"She prefaced her performance (in Seattle) by saying she had lost some dear friends to the AIDS epidemic," Bennett said. "It was moving. She began by singing and then went into this monologue. No set, no fancy costume. The passion was remarkable. The crowd just really appreciated it."

HIV/AIDS has become the also-ran of diseases after capturing this country's undivided attention in the 1980s and 1990s. Now we think of sub-Saharan Africa when HIV/AIDS is mentioned.

But that devastating disease has not disappeared from our shores.

Health officials in Washington, D.C., reported Monday that nearly 3,000 of every 100,000 people living in the nation's capital have HIV or AIDS. That's 3 percent of the residents.

At 1 p.m. Friday at KSU's Bradford Hall, Ralph will have a free open session with the public.

"It's a student convocation," Vansant said. "It will last 45 minutes, and she will be discussing her life and career."

Anyone may attend.

Book comes to life

On Saturday and Sunday in Lexington, a local cast of actors, most of whom are venturing on stage for the first time, will bring last year's One Book One Lexington young people's book to life at Lexington Children's Theatre.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963, by Christopher Paul Curtis, is a funny look at an African-American family living in Flint, Mich., who travel to Alabama to drop off one of the three children who has continually gotten into trouble. The parents believe the no-nonsense grandmother in Birmingham can snap the boy back into reality.

Once they arrive in Birmingham, however, the children experience segregation for the first time, including the bombing of a church and the killing of four little girls.

"The only difference from the book to the play is the family doesn't go back to Flint," said director Jeremy Kisling.

The play, adapted for stage by Reginald Andre Jackson, opened Sunday, he said, and because "80 percent" of the cast had never been on stage before, there were a few kinks that had to be worked out. But considering they are learning all about the theater, "they came through with flying colors."

Kisling said the play was selected because copies of book were given away free last year throughout the community during the reading promotion sponsored by the public library.

LCT "is really tuned into what is happening in our schools and in our community," Kisling said. "We wanted to serve our community."

Most of the performances are for area schools, but there will be three more performances for the public this weekend.