“Pretty Fire” at Taproot Theatre

Taproot is on a roll! The fire that damaged its space and swept through its neighboring establishments a few years ago would have destroyed many another theatre company. But not Taproot. Instead, the company raised funds to expand. They now have a cafe offering light foods and drinks before and after theatre presentations, and they have a new black box theatre in addition to the slightly enlarged main stage.

The first production in the new theatre opened March 6, and it’s a propitious beginning. “Pretty Fire” Charlayne Woodard’s one-person play is laced with humor, filled with gentle sweetness, and includes some harsh reality. It’s the tale of a little girl from her premature birth to her upcoming adolescence. She happens to be African American but the play is about so much more than race. It’s about siblings, the love of parents and grandparents, and coming of age in Albany, New York.

Tracy Michelle Hughes as Charlayne captures all the innocence of a little girl as well as her joys and fears. Alone on a stage with only a wooden bench as a prop, she’s mesmerizing. Like so many little girls she plans talent shows, deals with the bullies of the neighborhood, shares secrets, runs errands for her mother, and dreams her dreams.

As it does for all of us, harsh reality intrudes occasionally on her happy life. For her, it relates to her skin color. When she’s sent to a school for the academically gifted and called “nigger” for the first time, her mother’s wisdom and lessons are heartwarming. When she visits her grandparents in Georgia and sees the Klan in action, her innocence is heartbreaking. At first she sees the flaming cross as “pretty fire.”

The play won the L. A. Drama Critics Award and NAACP awards for best play and playwright. It was produced in New York by the Manhattan Theatre Club and here in Seattle a number of years ago by Seattle Repertory Theatre. It’ a treat to have it back, especially in such a polished production.

Through March 22, Thurs.-Sat., in the Isaac Studio Theatre at Taproot, 208 N. 85th St., Seattle, (206 871-9707 or www.taproottheatre.org).

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