Houston Chronicle

‘Dialogues on Grace’ to explore the perspectiv­es of other people

- By Don Maines

Heights documentar­y filmmaker Cressandra Thibodeaux edited 20 hours of videotaped interviews with more than 50 people to create her foray into live theater, “Dialogues on Grace.”

Workshop performanc­es of the 75-minute play will be performed at 8 p.m. Feb. 23-28 at 14 Pews, a former church that Thibodeaux renovated in 2010 following its use as the avant-garde Aurora Picture Show.

The script and performanc­es will likely change over the course of the one-week run, said Thibodeaux, but as the play evolves, she hopes it will succeed as a tapestry of interwoven voices that causes audience members to think about grace and forgivenes­s from the perspectiv­es of different people.

For example, Thibodeaux, who is bi- racial, contribute­d her own “story of grace” to the script by revealing that she gained insight into her late father, who was black, when she dated a black man.

“I was able to learn to understand, forgive and love my ‘prejudicia­l’ black father,” said the playwright. “And even though my father died on Jan. 30, 1988, I feel I’ve been given a second chance at understand­ing and loving my black family. And when you’re given a second chance at ‘loving’ better, to methat is Grace.”

Thibodeaux recalled that a major catalyst for the community forums was the violence in Ferguson, Missouri, after a black teenager was shot and killed by a white police officer on Aug. 9, 2014.

The venue hosts film screenings, musical performanc­es and art exhib--

its, but it was the sudden demand the past couple of years for rental as a space for community forums that inspired Thibodeaux to create “Dialogues on Grace.”

“Eventually a black group from Dallas, but also groups locally, began renting the facility for meetings on how to heal within their community,” said Thibodeaux. “They had dialogues on ‘being a black womanin America,’ ‘being a black man in America,’ ‘being a gay black man within the black community.’ ”

Thibodeaux decided, “I wanted to do my own dialogues.” She applied and was accepted into a work- shop at Tectonic Theater Project in New York City, which is perhaps best known for developing the 2000 play “The Laramie Project,” based on interviews in Wyoming following the 1998 torture and murder of a young gay man, Matthew Shepard.

The public outcry from the incident led to passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was signed into law in 2009.

“Tectonic taught me to listen to see if there are echoes, things that are repeated” in the interviews, said Thibodeaux.

“Tectonic also emphasized the power of collaborat­ion.”

Returning to Houston, Thibodeaux enlisted Montrose director Jacey Little, whose specialty is new play developmen­t.

“I come from a dance background,” said Thibodeaux, “so my art comes from not talking.”

In contrast, Little is adept with words and howto structure a play.

“What appeals to me most is making every effort to understand the root of an idea,” said Little.

“I ask questions rather than draw conclusion­s or make judgments. I help the writer peel back layers and morph her ideas into something theatrical­ly interestin­g and also wellbalanc­ed.”

Little agreed to direct this month’s production, which will employ four ac- tors in 20 different parts.

The cast includes Arianna Bermudez, Candice Laine D’Meza, Atseko Factor and Herman Gambhir, who impressed Thibodeaux when she saw him portray a young Indian-American wrestler in “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” when it was produced last year by Stages Repertory Theater and Horse Head Theatre Company.

Thibodeaux said she created “Dialogues on Grace” for live theater rather than isolated viewing as a documentar­y film because “it is imperative” that it be a shared communal experience, complete with audience dialogues after each performanc­e.

“My goal is discourse and a better connection with humanity,” she said.

 ?? Courtesy ?? Director Jacey Little, left, and actor Atseko Factor share a laugh with playwright Cressandra Thibodeaux, while rehearsing “Dialogues on Grace.”
Courtesy Director Jacey Little, left, and actor Atseko Factor share a laugh with playwright Cressandra Thibodeaux, while rehearsing “Dialogues on Grace.”

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