First commissioned in 2019 and more than two years in development, A HEATED DISCUSSION is the love child of more than 45 participants who worked tirelessly to give the production form and substance. Spearheaded by Ben Guillory, artistic director of the Robey Theatre Company and producer and director of A HEATED DISCUSSION, the world premiere play was written by award-winning author/actor/producer/director Levy Lee Simon. Finally, as the pandemic seems to be winding down and theaters again are opening their doors, The Robey Theatre Company proudly presents its first post-COVID production, A HEATED DISCUSSION.
The play opens in another dimension as three enraged Orishas/Spirit Gods (Tori-Ann Hampton, Ayonna Michele, Charyse Monet) bemoan the state of the world today – and especially the state of African Americans in today’s world. When they begin to seek answers to the conundrums in today’s society, they come to a powerful solution: Who better to respond to their queries with solid opinions and ideas but famed black leaders from the yesterdays they represent? And so the Spirit Gods convene an otherworldly meeting and invite the iconic leaders who helped to shape African-American values and future plans – people from all walks of life who contributed in so many different ways.
Soon the assemblage are called from their hereafters to debate the issues raised by the Orishas. This is certainly a star-studded cast of characters, including religious leaders, political activists, authors, musicians, doctors, and at least one comedian to stir the pot. What finer group to heatedly discuss these life-changing questions than Dr. Martin Luther King (Garret Davis), Malcolm X (David Bollar), Maya Angelou (Kimberly Bailey), Lorraine Hansberry (Tiffany Coty), James Baldwin (Julio Hanson), Bob Marley (Alex W.S.T. Chumley), Nina Simone (Lashada Jackson), Tupac Shakur (Kyle Sparks), Zora Neale Hurston (Vanda Renee), Ida B. Wells (Quonta Beasley), Dr. Francess Welsing Cress (Rosie Lee Hooks), and – last but not least – Richard Pryor (Philip Bell)? As the discussions grow more heated, ideas are upended and viewpoints are pulled like taffy into thinner and more varied shapes. Until a contemporary black figure offers some very pointed solutions.
Kudos to the musical team, including music director/composer Cydney Wayne Davis and musician James Manning, and to the productions team who brought the tale to life. Evan A. Bartoletti’s set design, Dave Iwataki’s sound, Jason Mimms’ graphic design, Jermaine Alexander’s video production, Naila A. Sanders’ costumes, and Benedict Conran’s lighting all admirably added to the production.
A HEATED DISCUSSION is a powerful piece of theater – creative, engrossing, and thought-provoking. Given the large cast, director Guillory does a yeoman’s job of herding the cats into one barrel while making sure that each individual maintains his own personality and emotional center. Happily, he is ably assisted by a very talented acting crew who skillfully draw both laughter and tears from the audience. The audience’s periodical claps during the show which was reviewed revealed just how much the viewers were emotionally involved in the performances. The show will especially appeal to anyone interested in the history of the black movement – or even in history more generally.
A HEATED DISCUSSION runs through May 15, 2022, with performances at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays. The Robey Theatre Company performs at the Los Angeles Theatre Center located at 514 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013. Tickets are $35. For information and reservations, call 213-489-7402, send an email, or go online.