A one-man show at Florida Studio Theatre takes us on a powerful journey.
By Kay Kipling
At the outset of this one-man show at Florida Studio Theatre, we meet Carlyle Brown, the African-American writer whose experiences on a journey to Africa more than 20 years ago make up the content of the evening. And at first, Brown doesn’t sound like an actor at all; he just starts talking to us about his trip, the way a speaker with a slide show might, and we think: Well, this could be pleasant enough, but it won’t necessarily be compelling theater.
But then we get swept along into Brown’s story, and as we follow him across the “Dark Continent,” as he brings alive not only his own persona but the voices and characters of many of the people he meets, we realize we’ve been mistaken. This isn’t just a travelogue; there’s an inner journey going on here, too, and not just for Brown, but for us.
Whether he’s doing a Tarzan riff (initially, that’s the image of Africa he can’t rid himself of before he sets off on his trip) or just discovering the scent of a new land, or, in one of the show’s earliest emotional discoveries, standing in what was once a holding cell for slaves, Brown places us in the moment with him.
Some of the people he meets are unfailingly kind; some are frightening; some are amusing. And as he logs thousands of miles, partly looking for a man he doesn’t even know (but whose card was given to him by a friend), partly trying to find a connection between his experience growing up in America and the experience of the native Africans, there are moments of déjà vu. Surely that language he hears bears a resemblance to the Gullah he vaguely recalls from his South Carolina childhood. Yes, an R&B hit like Shining Star can bridge the language and cultural gap. And although he knows nothing of his African ancestry, those he meets have no trouble placing him, merely from his features: He must belong to the Fula tribe of West Africa, and hundreds of years of separation from his family’s birthplace can’t change that.
Ultimately, The Fula from America asks more questions than it can begin to answer about Africa, African-Americans and the distinctions and connections between the two. That’s a given. But it makes the audience ask themselves a few questions, too, and that’s the start of any journey.
The Fula from America runs through March 23 at Florida Studio Theatre’s Stage III in the Gompertz Theatre; call 366-9000 or visit fst2000.org.