The theatre is outfitted like a prison—and rather convincingly too. Between the metal bars, stiff benches, toilet seats set on top of empty buckets, and the industrial fan blowing, the Fishtank’s Black Box definitely feels like a cross between Chicago (the musical, not the city) and Oz (the one from HBO, not home of the wonderful wizard). In “The Women of Cell Block 4”, written, produced, directed, and costarring Lashenna S. Flowers, death row becomes the perfect place to pitch everlasting life.
The show opens with three cellmates behind bars. Flowers, who plays ROXY, is joined by Shereese Murphy as FAITH and Sheri Hall as JACKIE. JACKIE takes on the role of both griot and shepherd. She testifies and quotes scripture—to her cellmates and, presumably, the audience—to spread the good news of her Father’s love to anyone who will listen. Hall plays the character with great pathos; the commitment in her voice enough to forgive how little eye contact she makes. JACKIE coaxes her cellmate FAITH to share how she landed in prison. Murphy portrays the mild-mannered FAITH with softness and naiveté, and when she poses the same question back to JACKIE, the good shepherd reveals the trials that led to her testimony. ROXY is mostly silent at first, but Flowers’s presence is strong on stage. Her reactions and occasional responses to the conversation between her cellmates are gritty and gruff. And when ROXY does reveal the tragic history that landed her in prison, we completely understand her demeanor.
As promised, the show touches on the themes of forgiveness and redemption, but at times there was more telling than showing. The actors shared very compelling stories, but without interacting much with the set or each other, the performance did not match the theatrics promised by the strong set design and costumes. When the show ended, however (it runs about 30 minutes), the cast did interact with the viewers. They stayed to meet, greet, chat, and pray with the audience—how good it is to fellowship together.
“The Women in Cell Block 4” has one show remaining. Catch it on Saturday (7/27) at 6:30pm.