‘Ain’t No Mo’ features tough conversations about racism and homophobia

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‘The color purple’
Until October 9
Signature Theater
4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, Virginia
$70-$108
Sigtheatre.org

DC likes to claim singer Frenchie Davis as its own. And now we can, again.

Davis returned to the DMV to direct the theatrical arts program at a new charter school as well as wow audiences in Signature Theater’s production of “The Color Purple” directed by Timothy Douglas. Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning Alice Walker’s coming-of-age novel about Celie (Nova Y. Payton), a teenage victim of the deep Jim Crow South who, through courage and bravery, grows up to find redemption.

Davis plays Celie’s occasional champion, Ballsy Sofia, a black woman who loath to bend (a part memorably played by Oprah Winfrey onscreen).

“I grew up in California, but was born in DC when my parents were students at Howard University. And years later I moved back to Howard, so artistically speaking, I started my career here,” says Davis, 43. “I started singing in old school gay clubs like Edge and Wet – that’s how I made extra money when I was in college. I owe a lot of who I am to DC”

She made national headlines when — despite a great voice and lively personality — she was cast on the second season of “American Idol” in 2003 after topless photos surfaced online, a “scandal” that went viral. picturesque bed today. But this is old news. Since then, Davis has performed on Broadway in “Rent”, toured nationally in “Dreamgirls” and “Ain’t Misbehavin'”, and played Henri in “The View Upstairs”, an off-Broadway musical on the Arson of UpStairs Lounge. who killed 32 patrons of a gay bar in New Orleans. Additionally, she performed at Blade’s 50th Anniversary Gala in 2019 and many other LGBTQ events.

“‘The Color Purple’ is a show I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and performing with my old friend Nova, a beautiful soul and real talent, makes it even better,” she says.

WASHINGTON BLADE: Sofia is incredibly strong. Do you relate?

FRENCH DAVIS: There’s a beauty and a vulnerability that the other characters lack on first glance because Sofia is so strong. And I think it reflects in my own life [she laughs]. Recently, I had to stop being the “strongest friend” offstage – sometimes it’s too much to be just one thing.

But strength is important. I love the way Alice Walker has created with this book – and this continues in the musical version – a beautiful story of sisterhood and the power that women have to change their lives and the world around them when they come together in support and love.

BLADE: Walker is also an activist — civil rights, women’s rights, Palestinian self-determination to name a few. Your bisexual coming out could be called political. Are you an activist?

DAVIS: I am an activist. Few black artists had come out of the closet when I came out. I think it was just me, Tracy Chapman and Meshell Ndegeocello.

Now people are breaking down the door. I have a lot of pride. I was young. I was in love with my “ex-husband” and wanted to honor that love and not be afraid to hold hands in public.

My father, a human rights activist, was terrified for my safety. I told him that if I have to lie, I’m not safe. Finally, he really surprised me. He treated my ex like another girl. They did hikes and all kinds of things without me. It pissed me off a bit. [Laughs.]

BLADE: Walker depicts so many relationships between women: sister, friend, lover.

DAVIS: It’s very inclusive. For me, reading the book as a youngster before it was dramatized was the first time I saw two black women in love. It was very impactful, especially because I identify as bi.

Additionally, Walker draws a nice contrast between the shy and simple Celie and the glamorous blues singer Shug Avery. [played here by Danielle J. Summons], showing both ends of the spectrum of women who survive sexual trauma. In their love for each other, Celie and Shug find common ground. As a rape survivor, I didn’t miss this part of the story.

BLADE: Is doing the show everything you hoped for?

DAVIS: This and more. I dream of words at night. I love singing the music of composer Brenda Russell. Sofia’s song, “Hell No”, changes from anger to a plea for Celie to leave an abusive marriage to Mister.

It’s intense in different ways. After rehearsing the scene where Sofia gets beat up, I needed a session with my therapist. Signature takes such good care of us, provides intimacy coaches, and advocates for self-care. It is a special production.

There are parts of me as a Frenchie that heal playing Sofia.

BLADE: Is there a happy ending for Sofia?

DAVIS: In a sense, but not necessarily the one I would choose. In my mind, the happy ending would be her ending up with Harpo [played by out actor Solomon Parker III] and his girlfriend Squeak [played by nonbinary actor Tẹmídayọ Amay]. This is my own bisexual happy ending.

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