Audience feels Woodard’s ‘Fire’

With a cast of five playing one woman, “Pretty Fire” provides a message of laughter, encouragement, determination and empowerment.

Written nine years ago, the play, which was originally a one-woman show, tells the true story of Charlayne Woodard, 50, an actress most commonly known for her reoccurring role Aunt Janice on the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

Broken down into five acts, the play opens with Woodard narrating her birth.

The audience is surprised when they discover that not only was she born in the bathroom of her parents’ home, she was a premature baby weighing 1 an a half pounds.

Growing up in the South, Woodard was quickly introduced to racism.

While she and her little sister Ally were visiting their grandparents in Georgia, they were exposed to hate as they watched the Klu Klux Klan burn a cross.

Not being able to comprehend exactly what was going on, Charlayne and her sister looked and saw a “pretty fire.”

The play later lightens up as Charlayne and her cousins fulfill their grandmother’s dying wish by joining the church youth choir.

In the end, the cast left the audience with smiles on their faces. Spectators at the play were not only pleased with the show, they took away a message from the play.

“The play was beautiful,” said Ajanae Sterling, 19, a sophomore theater performance student from Patterson, N.J.

“‘Pretty Fire,’ what it’s representing as far as I see, is those memorable moments that you have in life (that) are beautiful, but at the same time have that fiery hurt to it that you can’t forget,” Sterling said.

Other members of the audience thought the play was intriguing.

“I really wasn’t interested in the name ‘Pretty Fire,'” said Tenisha Boone, 19, a sophomore theater performance student from Port Smith, Va.

“What is that going to be about? Another play of just talking? But it was really good.”

Members of the cast included Anedra Johnson, Carol Hill, Karen Brown, Tracy Kilby and Zipporah Bruce, all theater performance students.

Each member of the cast had the opportunity to play Charlayne in the different acts.

Valencia Mathews, director of theater and assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, enjoyed working with the cast.

“When I cast a show, it’s certainly extremely important to me to have a good product. I’m very pleased with what they’ve done, and what’s important to me is during the process to see their growth as performers,” Mathews said.

“When I’m looking at the show, I look at it at two levels. Did I get the product that I want the audience to be pleased with, and did I get the product that I wanted the students to have made progress during the process?”

Although “Pretty Fire” didn’t have any extremely deep messages, the points the writer and performers wanted to make were delivered well.

The director and cast not only provided a good show, they did a splendid job presenting a piece of art.