- Last Updated on 12:14 PM 10/19/09
- BY Dean Visco/Special To The Gazette
Powerful! That was the one word that kept resounding in my mind as I interviewed an incredible lineup of talented and passionate women from the cast and crew of “Mama’s Pearls,” a play written by Halifax native Joan Whitlock and directed by Howard G.
Brenda E. Harris plays a dual role as Mae Emma (Mama) and her twin sister, Lillie Mae. Mae Emma is the loving mother of five children and devoted wife to her dearly departed husband, Oscar, who gave her the precious pearls that are so sought after throughout the play.
Mae Emma spends all her time and energy taking care of everyone except herself and that is unfortunately where this story begins, as does the search for “Mama’s Pearls.”
Harris also plays the role of Lillie Mae, the wealthy twin sister and favorite aunt from the west coast, who according to Harris is “not too snooty, just a little uppity.”
Harris, born and raised in Yonkers, New York, has done work with the Messiah Thespians at Messiah Baptist Church in Yonkers as well as with Fred Motley and the Cultural Arts Ensemble in Danville.
Mae Emma’s eldest daughter Rita, played by Karla Mitchell, assumes the position as the head of the family when Mae Emma passes, even though she has always felt as if her siblings were her children anyway.
Rita serves as a buffer between sister Camile (Vecentia Williams) and Aunt Ree (Angie Cheek) and has always been there to save her siblings from themselves, yet somehow, even though she was the first, she ends up feeling like the fifth wheel.
A native of Roxboro, N.C., where she teaches sixth-grade English, Mitchell graduated with a major in theater from Meredith College in North Carolina and also attended the American Music and Drama Academy while living and performing in New York.
Though Mitchell has a long list of acting experience, her talents do not stop there for this production. She is also the co-director of “Mama’s Pearls” and although she may understate it herself, she has skillfully executed the tasks and responsibilities of director in the absence of director Howard G, who since he resides in Baltimore, Maryland cannot be present for all of the rehearsals.
Mitchell said that even though it has been hard to be on both sides of the stage, it has been an incredible experience and one that has brought back many fond memories. From all accounts, Mitchell has done an outstanding job and has earned the respect of all her fellow cast and crew.
Vecentia Williams plays Camille, the middle sister and daughter of Mae Emma.
“Camille has been through a lot. She is stubborn and does things her own way, but she has a good heart. She speaks her mind and tells people when they are out of place,” Williams said.
Camille and Aunt Ree are always bumping heads and add an element of excitement when they nearly come to blows over an exchange of words. Williams has truly enjoyed the role and developing a family-like bond with the cast and crew. Camille has the opportunity to sing throughout the play, which means that as the viewing audience we have the opportunity and pleasure of hearing Williams’ amazing voice.
As she herself remarks, “Singing is what I do and what drew me to the play.” Williams was born and raised in Halifax County and along with singing professionally for weddings and other events, she is the owner and operator of Boo-tiq Styling Salon in Halifax.
LaQuita Lipscomb, who plays Adrienne, Mae Emma’s youngest daughter gets to showcase her vocal talents as well. With a beautiful and calming voice, Lipscomb helps set the emotional tone of the scene.
Adrian, Lipscomb’s character, is the only child that lives at home with her mother and is the last of Mae Emma’s children to speak with her. There is a lot of tension between Adrian and her siblings especially between her brothers and herself. She is very independent, but always finds herself in the middle of the altercation, trying to keep the peace between family members. “She just wants everyone to get along,” says Lipscomb.
Lipscomb, a native of Roxboro, is an English teacher at Person County High, the mother of three children and is currently a graduate student at North Carolina Central University.
Lipscomb has done musicals and multiple productions with the Kirby Theater in Roxboro, including an upcoming Kriby Theater production of “Having My Say,” along with fellow thespian Karla Mitchell.
Annette “Angie” Cheek. who also happens to be writer Joan Whitlock’s sister, has taken on the role of Aunt Ree. Aunt Ree, also known as the “Barracuda,” is always in everybody else’s business and is definitely not the most well liked of the aunts. She gets along with Sis (Yvette Urquhart) who helps keep her in check.
Cheek brings the fiery side to Aunt Ree’s character, ready to “throw down” at a moment’s notice especially with Camille. Cheek says that it has been really great to work with her sister, although she laughingly remarks that Joan gives her more of a hard time than she does anyone else. “Mama’s Pearls” is Cheek’s first performance outside of church plays and when she is not rehearsing she is loving the time she spends with her two grandsons and her dog Tia.
Aunt Sis, played by Yvette UrQuhart, spends most of her time throughout the play keeping her sister Ree straight and trying to save her from her own mouth.
Aunt Sis is well liked by the children, but spends most of time with her sister Ree. According to UrQuhart, this is her first time being in someone else’s play and having to learn lines written by another person, but she is enjoying the experience thoroughly. UrQuhart said that “the cast is made up of just the right people,” and that it feels just like a family... “sometimes I get so into a scene I have to hold back and not yell at other cast members” for what their character is doing.
Urquhart has also found success as a poetess, Christian comedian, motivational speaker and playwright. Her most recent endeavor being “Never Would Have Made It, Journey From The Slave House To The White House.” A play written by Urquhart that will be airing for the next three Sundays at 9:30 a.m. on Channel CW5.
A native of Halifax, Patricia F. Coleman plays Sister Lucille Jones, wife of Pastor Jones.
“She is a soft spoken woman, much younger and more attractive than her husband, Pastor Jones,” said Coleman.
Sister Lucille is friendly with the family, but most of her interaction with them is alongside her husband, with whom she is mostly agreeable. This is Coleman’s first attempt at acting. She is a friend of Joan Whitlock and Joan’s family, but she read about the auditions in the paper and decided to tryout. Coleman says that working with the cast has been like being with family, and she hopes that the relationships last long after the play has finished.
As assistant producer, stage manager and understudy, Catherine “Cattie” Burns’ talents have been utilized in many ways. She is the understudy for five of the female roles in the play and says she has enjoyed standing in and reading those parts during rehearsals. Behind the scenes Burns ensures that everything is running smoothly and that the word is getting out about “Mama’s Pearls.” Burns is a native of Halifax County and grew up here as the fourth of 14 children. She has received certifications in environmental studies from Virginia Tech University and currently works for the Halifax Public School System as an environmental specialist. Burns is also a celebrated patented inventor.
Jennifer Hiban, who said that “the stage is not for her,” has been there with writer Joan Whitlock from the beginning stages of the play’s coming out. Originally from Maryland, Hiban has lived in the area for 18 years and has known Joan since her perfomance in “Raisin in the Sun.”