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These sorts of reviews are difficult to write. Removing myself from the technical aspects of the art, looking past critique to focus on the message—its relevance, impact, and significance—isn’t easy. Kaleidoscope Cultural Arts Collective’s (KCAC) Khepera, and what lies between its lines, is an imperative spiritual journey and a vital work of art that is relevant but scarcely ever told. It’s a journey of self-love that hits home, but unfortunately, it’s not without flaws.
Khepera tells the story of four different women known as the Daughters of Africa who go by the names Fire, Water, Air, and Earth, as they discover themselves and carve out their own space in the world. A world that pushes against them, discriminates against them, and wants to keep them silenced. It’s a postmodern spiritual that meditates on Blackness in capitalism, especially as it pertains to Black women.
KCAC artistic director Ardencie Hall-Karambé is contributing theater to North Philadelphia. The group is diverse in what it has to offer—an accomplished theater company serving as an arm of Arden Blair Enterprises, a multi-faceted art and entertainment company. I’m here for it, and I fiercely support it. So where does it go wrong?
Blending the elements
With four elements blossoming through their chrysalises into epiphanies of self-love and self-actualization, the script falls into expositional loops. While all the elements had their own personalities and conflicts, once we get into their revelations, their uniqueness blurred together. A chorus might better serve their voices, uniting them and demonstrating their strength as a community. Instead, their monologues arrive with redundancies, lacking new information as they progress. With each of the elemental daughters taking their own turns, and the ancestors that guide them chiming in, ornate speeches embellish the length of the play.
I hoped for more kinetics. I wanted to see how these elements felt, not just hear it. This sort of voyage towards self-actualization is as nonverbal as it is rhapsodic, and I yearned for a balance between the two.
Despite that, Khepera does a lot well. I felt seen as Water wrestles with her need to be noticed and her false sense of control over things outside her dominion as an artist. Fire’s sass and sexuality are as genuine and fierce as they are complex mechanisms of expression and self-preservation. Earth kept it real without pulling any punches, reminiscent of how my sister and aunts do. Air is possibly the most open about her multiplicity and it showed in her body language.
Khepera’s navigation through what it means to be a Black woman in America resonates hard. It plucks at your soul. It forces its discomfort and pain on you. The tone is unnerving with its use of colors, flickering lights, and a soundscape that rolls with thunder and water and chimes with dark ambiance.
Critique need not apply
Are my criticisms merely prescriptive because this story doesn’t care about Western narrative structures? Possibily, and finding the intent in that sort of action might not be apparent at first glance. If I take off my writer goggles, I may be missing something more elemental and vestigial: Khepera is unapologetic and isn’t adhering to any Western expectations of narrative, and is grounded deep in diasporic empiricisms.
I wanted to like Khepera more than I did. I deeply appreciate the message behind it, but I felt like the script told its story and then stuck around for longer than it needed to. Nonetheless, I urge you to go see Khepera and support KCAC.
What, When, Where
Khepera. By Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts and Roneasha “Nzinga” Bell. Directed by Ardencie Hall-Karambé. Through March 1, 2020, at the Kline Theater at the historic Church of the Advocate, 2121 N. Gratz Street, Philadelphia. https://arden-blair.com/kaleidoscope-cultural-arts-collective.
The Kline Theater is not an ADA-compliant venue, with stairs leading to the theater on the second floor. There is a gender-neutral restroom.
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