In the fall of 2012, actor, singer, talented performer, Tramaine Montell Ford was on stage again performing his autobiographic work, The Tramaine Experience: an urban dramedy set in Chicago's Cabrini Green projects.
The Experience simultaneously tells Tramaine's personal story and opens the audience to the atmosphere and life of Cabrini Green through the stories of four fictional characters, which are loosely based on real people from Tramaine's past. From it's beginnings at Theatre Row's Studio Theatre to these performances at the American Theatre of Actors, the entire show had evolved in a magnificent way. The stage was well dressed giving a playful, yet honest feeling of being in the projects. The wardrobe and props for each of his characters were well thought out giving them distinction.
The entertaining hilarity ensued starting with the homeless drunk, Jarvis Williams:
Then there was the fast-talking homegirl, Laquanda Jenkins (and friends):
Tramaine knows and performed the entire "Single Lady's" dance number as Laquanda. Not to be too cheesy and Beyonce about it but, "fierce" was honestly the only word to describe it.
The next character to follow was the local convenience store owner, Habib:
And of course, last but not least, the hip-hop artist and ladykiller, Pookie Washington:
The best part of the show was the closing monologue, where Tramaine lost the costumes, lost the props, placed a single spot on himself and just...acted. In these closing moments he was a shapeshifter, and he played each of the shows' characters at a moment's notice. It's as if he snapped his fingers in his mind, pushed and pulled his own body and became the next character; his voice changed, his physicality and gestures changed.
In this monologue he concluded each character's story, giving them gravitas. There was no more comedy, no more entertaining, he was telling the stories of heart-broken people.
Jarvis was not a homeless drunk who didn't try hard enough in life. He was a man once married whose wife died of cancer and after that, everything fell apart.
Laquanda wasn't just a fast-talking gossip. She was a woman who had her trust abused time and time again by the men she loved and believed in. I wish I could remember the exact quote, but to sum up Laquanda's attitude and harsh personality Tramaine said something to the effect of:
"It's not being a bitch. It's being thick skinned. It's a shell that you develop that helps you protect yourself."
It was eye-opening:
The entire show was strategized, crafted brilliantly. Tramaine wanted to use this platform to say something profound. He knew it from the start. He knew it while he was writing and creating the show. He knew it all while he was performing the show. He knew he was going to make a point in the end.
So he lured the audience in with fun and comedy and before you knew it, you were inescapably honed in on him while he was under the spotlight. He had earned your full attention and then, through this monologue, he hit you between the eyes with what he really wanted to say all along:
Don't judge the projects. Don't judge me. Don't judge others in and from a situation that you know nothing about.
He never says that literally, but that's what the entire monologue implies. It's the grounding message of the performance. Tramaine ends and exits the stage with a personal quote, one that exemplifies his life's journey:
"You don't have to die to go into the light."