Tonight we had the privilege of seeing the CityParks Theater presentation of jessica Care Moore's "God Is Not An American" at the wonderful Von King Park in Bed-Stuy. It's a dynamic, resonant one-woman show featuring poetry, video, and live music to explore the concept of God, race, gender and other issues with heart, soul and grace.
We took the B43 bus at Graham Avenue and Metropolitan for a quick ride to Tompkins Avenue at Lafayette, where we got off just by the side of Von King Park where the amphitheater is. The last time we saw something there, it was a year ago this week when we were at the third annual Gender Equity Festival.
God Is Not An American is part of this year's CityParks theater programs. The CityParks Foundation also sponsored the free performance by Sugarhill Gang at Queenbridge Park that we went to last week.
CityPark sponsors lots of summer concerts, theater, and dance at not only Von King Park and Queensbridge Park but alo Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem, East River Park on the Lower East Side, Red Hook Park, Brower Park in Prospect Heights, Tappan Park and Mahoney Playground in Staten Island, Rochdale Park in Locust Manor, Springfield Park in Springfield Gardens, St. Mary's Park in the South Bronx, and Crotona Park (famously discussed in Odets' Waiting for Lefty), also in the Bronx. New Yorkers unfamiliar with these inner-city oases are missing a treat.
The most famous CityPark events, of course, are Central Park's SummerStage.
We got to Von King Park early and were surprised to learn that the show went on during last night's rain, when we had figured it would have been canceled.
Ushers gave out programs for the event that included upcoming shows in CityParks Theater.
You can catch God Is Not An American one more time, next Tuesday at Marcus Garvey Park. Here's the preview of the first video shown in the performance, dealing with the statement in the title:
Here's some of Wikipedia's entry on Jessica:
Moore first won acclaim as the first poet to ever win the nationally televised Showtime at the Apollo competition 5 times in a row.
That same year, she would be filmed for the documentary SlamNation. The film followed her and the 1996 Nuyorican Poetry Slam Team (Saul Williams, Beau Sia and Mums da Schemer) as they competed at the 1996 National Poetry Slam. In the book Words In Your Face: A Guided Tour Through Twenty Years of the New York City Poetry Slam, author Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz wrote of Moore's time in the poetry slam, noting "Her razor-sharp verse confronted and addressed the difficulties of being a black woman and a black poet in a culture that seemed to support neither."
She has been referenced by rapper Talib Kweli and has appeared on rapper Nas's Nastradamus album. One of her most famous poems is "Until We Dance, For Joseph" dedicated to a family member who died of AIDS, which is frequently recited at AIDS Walks. She has performed and collaborated with literary, musical and other noted celebrities such as George Clinton, Antonio Hart, Nas, the late Ossie Davis, Mos Def, the late Gregory Hines, Judith Jamison, CeCe Winans, Anthony David, Roy Ayers, Gil Scott Herron, Sonia Sanchez, Steve Harvey, Cedric the Entertainer, Patrice Rushen, Talib Kweli, Ntozake Shange, Nikki Giovanni, The Last Poets and many more.
Her books include The Words Don't Fit My Mouth (1997) and The Alphabet Verses: The Ghetto (2003). Here's an interesting cover story on Jessica by Norene Cashen in Metro Times, the alt-weekly in her hometown of Detroit, a city which informs a lot of her art.
It combined Jessica's own slam poetry, riffs on everything from growing up in Detroit near Dearborn, traveling the world as a black woman, being a single mother to King (a name that apparently evoked curiosity in the Atlanta hospital where he was born), being a Scorpio who's always in love, being an American and a skeptical believer (?) as presented in the Christian Bible ("not enough women writers -- things were worse for us B.C., before computers; now at least we get some blog love").
The music, whether sung by vocalist Stefani Christiane (sp?) or played by the talented instrumentalists on drums, percussion (Penny), guitar, bass and trumpet (Jamal) in her onstage family, was pertinent and lively, and it provided a nice underlining of the thrust of Jessica's poetry and the videos. (Sorry we didn't get everyone's names).
Jessica is a wry observer of life, whether the vagaries of the public assistance system in welfare or of being on the same flight as Michael Vick on a plane out of Hartsfield/Jackson or crossing the Dearborn/Detroit line between the two cities and between Arab-American and African-American worlds, and her funny and mordant thoughts on all of this provided some of the highlights of the show.
God Is Not An American is jessica Care moore's show, but it was brilliantly directed by the well-known director/producer/choreographer/performer Aku Kadogo, head of Wayne State University's black theater program who' worked on everything from for colored girls who have considered suicide to Rent.
We're now going to find jessica Moore care's books and look forward to seeing the collected work we saw tonight in print. However, it can't beat seeing her in person. If you get the chance to see God Is Not An American, you're as lucky as we were tonight. (Okay, we hope this is some "blog love." If so, it's well-deserved.)