zAmya is a theater company that highlights homelessness in Minnesota with company members who have experienced (or are experiencing) homelessness as well as those who have not. I have seen a few of their shows and this my favorite. They do a great job of starting with a theme for format that is easily recognizable. This time around they turned the Twilight Zone into the zAmya Zone. Genius! There were four short episodes and the format makes it easier for the audience to jump with the performers in immediately into the scene and makes for some easy and sometimes necessary jokes.
The stories are shop-worked and represent personal stories of the performers and people they know. It’s a glimpse into homelessness. It’s a statement on social justice or lack thereof. Some scenes are heartbreaking; some are illuminating. And the troupe tackles topics that are timely.
The first episode (The Grass is Greener) takes place in a medical marijuana dispensary. Sam (Marvin Howard) arrives on the scene. He’s looking for a job after recently being released after 20 years in jail. He can’t believe the culture of legal drug use. Ironically, he cannot get a job at the dispensary because he has a felony – as a former drug dealer, specializing in weed, or as it’s now called cannabis. It’s a damning commentary on who are the real winners are in the changed war on drugs. (I could watch Howard’s facial expressions all day long.)
Little Black Riding Hood, the second episode (starring Tahiti Robinson) about a retired dancer who has Alzheimer’s disease and loses her home after refinancing her mortgage to help pay for a family members medical needs. Unfortunately it was a predatory lender and combined with the memory loss, bills are unpaid and eventually she finds herself in a shelter. Robinson has a presence on stage and clearly was a dancer back in the day. Her face is so engaging. She has an innocence and wide-eyed nature that makes the story heartbreaking.
The third episode, Homelessness Space Program, is reminiscent of Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal and Twilight Zone’s To Serve Man. People who are experiencing homelessness are tricked into signing up to move into outer space. It’s out there but it’s a draw on established themes and at the end of the scene one of the performers reads out examples of actual cases where people have been used so harshly without realizing (or not being told) what they were in for the worst example was Tuskegee Airmen.
The final episode, Strange Encounters, is like a Freaky Friday scenario. Two women, one rich and housed and the other experiencing homeless, swap places against their wishes in the middle of the night. It’s a scene that spurred idea from the audience. The props stole the show in this episode. With what has to be a pretty limited budget, people have to get creative. They found a way to create two bedrooms on stage with a two-sided drape that looked like pillow and bed.
Someone on stage tonight talked about the many, many stories that are dying in people’s mouths. It’s not that people aren’t talking, the problem is the dominant culture doesn’t hear. zAmya is lifting up the stories and I think it’s our job to listen and become the richer for it.
Performances are free (donations accepted) and start at 7pm on the following days:
- Thursday, Nov. 21 at Minneapolis Central Library (300 Nicollet Mall)
- Friday, Nov. 22 at Washburn High School (201 W. 49th St., Mpls)
- Saturday, Nov. 23 at Pillsbury House Theater (3501 Chicago Av. S., Mpls.).