Last weekend, TU Theatre put on a reading of “Black Super Hero Magic Mama,” a contemporary play by Inda Craig-Galván, a Chicago native studying at the University of Southern California. The script was the winner of TU WomenWorks, an annual national competition in which female graduate students across the nation send in scripts to be judged by TU. The winner of the competition is flown out to Tulsa to workshop their script for a week and conduct a reading of the play.
The play, set in present-day Chicago, is centered around Sabrina Jackson, whose son Tramarion is shot by a white police officer. As Sabrina attempts to work through her son’s death, she imagines herself as Maasai Angel, the main character of a comic book Tramarion was creating before his death.
Given that synopsis, “Black Super Hero Magic Mama” seems to be the most contemporary plays I’ve ever heard of. Though it certainly has one foot strongly planted in the modern day, the play largely focuses on the timeless theme of overcoming grief. This focus means that the play can still stand on its own after the issue of police brutality has left the public spotlight.
However, the play still manages to use its modern elements in interesting ways. It draws a parallel between Maasai Angel’s quest for vengeance with Sabrina’s stages of grief, shifting and blurring the lines between the real world and the comic world at various points in the play.
Of course, the audience had to gather all of this imagery from little more than stage directions, given that this wasn’t a full production of the play. Instead, the actors, dressed in all black, simply sat in a row of chairs and stood for the scenes they’re featured in, reading their character’s lines straight from the script on-stage. The cast, a combination of TU students and actors from the Tulsa community, used small movements to convey larger things that would happen in a full production.
An actor simply rotating themselves away from another substitutes for a character walking to the other side of the stage. In some cases, like the villains presenting their weapons in what would be an impressive display during a full production, the actors would play up for laughs by giving a purposefully uncoordinated attempt.
The actors performed well, conveying the emotions of the characters well and managing to carry the script without the aid of music, lighting, or staging. Though I was in the fourth row near center stage, some of the actors were a bit difficult to hear at the beginning. I found myself leaning forward to make out some lines, so I imagine that people near the back couldn’t hear those lines at all. As the play progressed, however, the actors seemed to be more confident and speak louder, especially when they played exaggerated comic versions of themselves.
Overall, I was impressed with the script and the reading. Craig-Galván has a lot of potential as a playwright, and she has an excellent gift for taking modern situations and combining them with timeless themes. The reading itself was entertaining and made me hope that I could see a full production at some point. The WomanWorks competition is meant to give a voice to playwrights who have been historically ignored, and “Black Super Hero Magic Mama” is one play that definitely deserves a platform for its characters and ideas.