Modern Griots Reviews: Mahogany Browne and the Mythic Poetics of Redbone


redbone biomythography“Children born in this desert are always thirsty.”

This is a line from poet Mahogany L. Browne’s Poetic Theater Productions and The Wild Project presented production, Redbone: A Biomythography. The Eboni Hogan-directed, hour-long show descends into the depths of the relationship between Browne’s parents for Browne to better understand them and herself, and to highlight the issues of their relationship that still exist today. Named after her mother’s nickname because of the light color of her skin, the production deals with issues of gender, class, domestic abuse, colorism, addiction and prison system.

When I first heard  one of the poems in the work while in a Cave Canem workshop with Browne, I did not expect how that work would flesh out over a year later.  With the stage covered in glass bottles and other containers, the stage itself transformed into an alter of memory — the performers poured water into the different vessels like giving a libation, pictures from her youth were displayed on the screen in the background as Browne and a younger version of herself spoke, and the two dancers, Orlando Hunter and Leslie Lissaint bring those memories of her parents alive on stage as Mel Hsu hauntingly thumped away on her cello and sang the blues along with Browne’s words that expressed the moments of love and pain that created her. The pouring of water and the need for water was a symbolism for various themes of the production: the brief moment of love and thirst for each other that formed her despite Browne’s parents brokenness, her mother’s and father’s thirst that

Redbone Biomythography
Mahogany Browne and Mel Hsu

was not quenched with each other and the transformation into addiction and violence, and the beauty, cleansing redemption, the freedom Browne reclaims for herself and her parents through telling their story – the “prospect of a sunrise” when two hurricanes of bodies” come together.

Recently I read a quote from John Oliver Killens about the need to create our own myths and legends to reclaim our self-esteem and regard for each other and, so Browne appropriately called her work a biomythography, forming her own personal story that gives compassion to the places from which she comes and speaks to the universal needs of us. Like the myth of Medusa who is referenced in Browne’s self-titled poem, she confronts the frightening, ugly face of her past to see the humanity  in her family, to see people whose story is misunderstood, to see their complexity and strength, their hardness and softness, to see people who wanted to fly and could not escape the abyss of their conditions, who wanted to be loved and did not receive the love they needed, and to connect to a larger community who needs the same.

We do not get to choose the people who come together to form us, but we do have the power to take the fragments we inherit from them and mold them into new creations as Browne does.

Take a look at the trailer below:

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