On stage during a post-show discussion (L to R: Naa Akua, playwright and co-director Anastacia-Renee, and co-director Aviona Rodriguez Brown). Photo by R. Barron.

Honoring Black Lives & Mothers Stolen in ‘Queer, Mama. Crossroads’

The new play from Anastacia-Reneé, Seattle’s Civic Poet, deals with trauma, death, violence and loss, but does so from a perspective of voice and remembrance — a performative memorial, centered on Black queer mothers. It shows at Annex Theatre through May 4. 

 

the city sits on itself like a tired woman after a long day of being black. it never excuses itself for crushing us with her weight & we don’t complain…after all, we are alive, we are drinking, we are beautiful in the rain

Anastacia-Reneé, “The City (1),” in Forget It, p. 43
(internal punctuation and capitalization in original; emphasis added)

 

Queer, Mama. Crossroads is not a play, exactly. There’s no beginning, middle, or end to follow in the classic sense, no comfortable narrative arc. Indeed, the show description settles upon “choreo-poem-performance piece,” which seems about right but perhaps, even with all those hyphenated modifiers, incomplete.

What it feels like instead is a performative memorial, otherwise resistant to simple categorization, in which three humans, all mothers, all of them Black, tell their own stories. Each of the mothers’ lives had a very definitive, sudden, violent end; and in their children’s lives, the monumental shift to becoming children without mothers likewise had a definitive, sudden, violent beginning.

In Queer, Mama. Crossroads, Anastacia-Reneé sets out to honor the Black, queer mothers whose lives are stolen, far too often, and too often without any mind outside of their direct communities.

The piece is performed by five people. Three of them play mothers, with specific narratives of how they embraced life, how their lives were stolen, and the lives they leave behind. And two are near-mythical figures, who say little verbally but who compel each mother through their passage. They are called Guide (played by Naa Akua) and Ansister (played by Jalayna Carter).

The mothers have much to say in the play. But the crux of this piece, if it can be summed up so neatly, is that society says little about them. And that’s the sentiment captured by their names: Forgotten, Invisible1, and No Hashtag. 

Nobody knew
And I never became a hashtag or a song or a candle flicker

L to R: Kamari Bright as No Hashtag, Naa Akua as Guide, Simone Dawson as Forgotten, Jalayna Carter as Ansister, and Ebo Barton as Invisible1. Photos by Jaycee Hermida Holmes.

The three mothers are all very different. Forgotten (played by Simone Dawson) is a young non-binary mother, seemingly innocent, sweet, caring. We meet Forgotten in the process of helping their child pack up for school: You can take bunny or bear but not zebra.  

Invisible1 (played by Ebo Barton) is a straight-shooting, masculine-presenting mother, whom we meet in the process of negotiating payment arrangements: My entire life is a financial hardship. Invisible1 approaches life with a kind of self-assurance: The kind of living you do when you’re not afraid of dying, and you’re not afraid of living, either.  

And No Hashtag (played by Kamari Bright; understudy Modessa Jacobs) is sharp and confident. We meet her as she’s looking glam, getting ready to go out.

In a blink, they’re all taken out by gunfire. What follows is a flurry of lights, sirens, crime scene tape, and radio squawking. Then Guide enters, silencing all the noise.  

We learn that some of that gunfire had come from police. No Hashtag describes, after death:
I told the officer
With my education and my several degrees
And all of my mammy patience passed down to me through generations
PLEASE DON’T DO THIS TO ME

The names of Black women who have been murdered, in real life, are read aloud. And like in Anastacia-Reneé’s primary medium, poetry, repetition in this show plays a key role.

I see you.
I see you.
I see you.
I see you.
I see you.

The writer acknowledges this is an emotionally difficult show, both to watch and to perform. Of the mothers, for example, in a post-show discussion Anastacia-Reneé observed, “This is a traumatic experience for them every show. They have to die 15 times.”

And you’re asking me why I’m so angry.
And you’re asking me why I’m so angry.
And you’re asking me why I’m so angry??  

The three mamas, on stage during a post-show discussion (L to R: Ebo Barton, Kamari Bright, Simone Dawson). Photo by R. Barron.

A piece like this could easily go awry, succumbing to the gratuitous and violent, the overly sentimental, the unnecessarily drawn-out. Credit the writing and direction — co-directed by Anastacia-Reneé and Aviona Rodriguez Brown — that it does none of those things, remaining an efficient show that’s both short (around an hour) and robust.

And as is something of an Annex hallmark, the design team makes the most of a limited budget. The set is simple but effective. The sound gets a little abrupt in transitions, but song choices and effects are all good ones. Costumes befit the characters, and lighting design adds to the drama.

Queer, Mama. Crossroads is a thoughtful, and thought-provoking, performance done well; a meditation on the current state of America, gun violence, and Black motherhood. Recommended.


Queer, Mama. Crossroads runs through 5/4 at Annex Theatre on Capitol Hill. Tickets $20, or sliding scale ($10-$40) available to all; pay-what-you-can performances Mondays, 4/15 & 4/22. Tickets available here. For showtimes, visit Calendar page. Accessibility notes: restrooms are gender-neutral, single-stall; theatre is up significant flights of stairs and is not wheelchair accessible. 

R. Barron reviewed arts behind the scenes (awards, grants, etc.), before writing for Seattle Gay Scene & NWTheatre.org. Passions include theatre, new works, and arts showcasing underrepresented voices.