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Michael’s Daughter: Daring to Look Back

[dc]“M[/dc]ichael’s Daughter,” the one-woman play written and performed by Ciera Payton, quilts together family dysfunction, drug addiction, and the weight of growing up biracial in the Deep South into a loving, bluesy jazz riff on one woman’s ability to surmount forces that would surely crush a lesser soul.

ciera payton

In telling her own life’s story, Payton artfully dons first a flannel shirt, a stutter, and a stoop to become her crack addict father, borne of an illicit biracial affair, who now counsels his daughter on better paths from the confines of his Louisiana prison cell.

Then it’s a silky blouse to become her eye-catching mother, married too young, a mother too young, and now too busy pursuing the bright lights in a big Texas city to bother raising her own children, at least once a new man comes along.

With other simple artistry Payton becomes her sassy Aunt Kathy, always ragging on Ciera to forgive her father as he struggles through a second stretch for pushing drugs, and in her dreams comes voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, using black magic to pull the young woman back to her family’s roots in New Orleans’ Third Ward.

michaels daughter

Then, bare-armed again, she’s back to herself, a vulnerable young actress struggling to make it first in New York and now Los Angeles, waiting on too many dinner patrons, going on too many auditions, and falling prey to the dysfunction in her own life, played out in the succession of men she finds in her bed and her inability to sustain a relationship with any of them.

But rather than simply retelling her family’s ragged history, Payton — an Off-Broadway veteran with credits in television’s “The Closer,” “Californification,” and “Torchwood” — molds the real-life clay of their lives into pungent and affecting commentary on the larger themes of race relations in America, the way our prison system perpetuates itself, and the interplay of family dynamics in homes riven by drug addiction and alcoholism.

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Throughout, New Orleans emerges as a character itself, its famous music, food, and soulful approach to life almost serving as an antidote for the tough times the poor, back ward residents in this story must face.

Most of all, what emerges from an utterly delightful night at the theater is how love has pulled this young woman back to a family that has given her every reason to turn away, run away, and never look back.

"I’m gonna walk you down that aisle in some big ol church, maybe the Cathedral,” her father promises, eager for the long-awaited prison visit with the daughter he loves so dearly but has hurt so deeply. “Life’s gonna be good when I get out, I promise,” he says, and you can see how desperately that daughter wants to believe it, both that there might someday actually be a man at the end of the aisle and that her father will escort her to him.

dick price

[dc]“M[/dc]ichael’s Daughter,” which recently concluded a short run at the Hollywood 2012 Fringe Fesitival, was directed by Faythallegra Coleman, a young filmmaker who graduated from Wesleyan College. The play deserves a wider showing and the actress a lifetime of performances.

Dick Price
Editor, Hollywood Progressive

24 June 2012