Truitt back in Sac performing new one-woman show at Artisan Theatre
photographs by Barry Wisdom /
For some, memories are jogged by a Top 40 ballad. Others find aromas initiate the trek down memory lane.
For triple-threat Danielle Moné Truitt, it’s not scents, songs or even Hipstamatic prints that prompt feelings of nostalgia. As wiggy as it seems, Truitt says the touchstones that trigger her internal "Way-Back Machine" are hairdos.
"When I think about all of the major things that have happened in my life, what I remember is how I was wearing my hair," said the former Sacramentan now based in Southern California. "Ask me about my junior prom and I can tell you exactly what style it was in."
It’s a bit of a tangled connection between how a friend’s discovery of a stress-induced bald spot behind Truitt’s left ear five years ago led to the inspiration for her latest one-woman show, "3" (playing June 7-10 at Sacramento’s Artisan Theatre), but she does her best to explain it to her follically challenged interviewer.
"My hair grew back, but I was amazed at how much my self-esteem was affected by this bald spot," said Truitt, who made an indelible impression in the B Street Theatre’s 2010 production of Charlayne Woodard‘s "Neat." "I realized my hair and my identity were closely tied together. It’s a love affair almost."
Desperate to explore the roots of her obsession, she turned to friend, former castmate (B Street’s "The Beggars’ Strike," "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day") and Sacramento-based playwright-director Anthony D’Juan to discuss the possibility of an emotional expedition that would launch from – where else? – the stage.
"I have an idea for a one-woman show called ‘Nappy Hair and Other Black Girl Blues,’" D’Juan recalled Truitt telling him back in 2007.
Though D’Juan had little experience with solo shows, his friendship with Truitt and his respect for her talents (she was the model for Disney’s Princess Tiana, and provided the voice for Georgia, in the animated feature "The Princess and the Frog") led him to consider her proposal.
"I wrote and performed a one-person show for myself in 2001," recalled D’Juan. "It worked for what it was. In retrospect, it sucked. … After that I continued to write all these solo pieces, intended for other people – very few were ever produced. (But) she is one of the most creative actors I know – one of the rare ones who take acting as an art. She is freakishly natural with a large range. I could cast her as Albert Einstein and she’d pull it off."
D’Juan not only became a convert, but a true evangelist.
"I loved the theme," said D’Juan. "The moment Danielle mentioned women and hair, a thousand ideas hit me at once. I was able to write piece after piece after piece without flinching because taking such a, seemingly, shallow concept like hair and applying it to daily behavior revealed a complexity."
"Anthony wrote a few drafts, but I wasn’t sure what I was looking for," said Truitt, who added that years went by before they agreed on the concept of a series of vignettes in which the audience looks at "the lives of three women connected by friendship and history."
"Women battle individuality and worldly acceptance," said D’Juan, "which I think is a part of how it all became a series. Originally this was to be one show. As I continued to write, it became clear that there was no way to communicate this in one show. Three-and-a-half years later, I proposed the idea that perhaps this should be a series.
D’Juan’s long-simmering concept evolved into a trilogy bearing Truitt’s original title, which became the series’ title. After a four-year gestation, "3" would be the first of the "triplets" to be born.
"’3′ refers to the three women in this play who grew up together from the age of 6," said Truitt during a break in rehearsals for the Sacramento debut production of "3" (mounted by Truitt under the auspices of her Just Be Theatre Company). "They’re now in their 30s, and they’re not as close anymore, but they’ve all followed a certain thread in their lives. This play centers on female self-esteem, and what happens when you don’t confront issues in your life."
And while the love-hate relationship women have with their hair may have first inspired her pitch to D’Juan, Truitt said that aspect has been considerably refined.
"There are references to hair in the play, but it’s not the central theme," she said. "The central theme is the reemergence of self and identity, and seeing people the messy parts of others. It’s not a play about how unhappy we are about our hair. You’re seeing the blues of these women. Any woman who sees these women will see a part of themselves they can identify with."
"The first character we meet is Keisha," Truitt said. "She’s very urban and is in an on-and-off relationship that’s completely ridiculous. She’s being cheated on, but has no motivation to change her situation.
"Jill is a housewife with three kids and a husband who’s controlling and not present – he’s emotionally gone. They don’t have a good relationship at all; he controls what she can and can’t do. They’re both accepting of things in their lives that they shouldn’t be.
"The third woman – Stephanie – has achieved educational and business success. She’s a big-time lawyer who just became partner, but she has a drinking problem. Stephanie’s a loner. No family, no relationship with her parents … she’s very lonely."
The play’s three characters don’t break the fourth wall and directly address the audience, said Truitt, who wanted to avoid copying the format of "a lot of the plays in African-American theater where you’re telling the audience what’s happening."
Instead, the characters converse with one another and others via telephone and "in person," though Truitt inhabits only one character per scene. (The others are unheard and unseen.)
"(Originally, ’3′) was not at all a part of it," said D’Juan of his trilogy. "Not even a hint of those characters. It was heading toward a completely different direction. Deciding to split the show into a series removed the pressure that was building from the corner we pushed ourselves into. Then I broke away from the structure we were building with the other script and wrote ’3,’ which was not at all like what we were doing before. As far as the other two shows go, I can only say I am working on the second one and it is more rooted in music."
D’Juan said creating female voices might present a particularly difficult challenge for some male playwrights, but that he embraces the opportunity.
"For some reason, female characters have always been easy for me to write," said D’Juan. "I can only connect that to my upbringing — raised in a house with all women. Female characters are simply able to say the stuff male characters want to say … and get away with it. That’s how I look at it."
It may have taken D’Juan a few years to form a clear vision that he and Truitt could agree on, but once the foundation was laid, scripting the first installment of "Black Girl Blues" was as easy as one, two, three.
"I wrote ’3′ in two days," said D’Juan. (The characters) all poured out. The only revision it had was a few tweaks when we were producing it in L.A. last September."
That world premiere, at Van Nuys’ The Living Room – a Christian worship facility that’s home to a performance-space-for-hire – may have been produced on the cheap, but holds a priceless place in Truitt’s heart as her husband, Kevin, is the congregation’s pastor.
In February, "3" was hosted by the Kansas State University (Manhattan) Black Student Union as part of its Black History Month celebration.
For those theatergoers concerned that "3" is a stage-mounted version of a "chick flick," Truitt said they needn’t worry the show’s 75-minute running time will seem like 75 days.
"Even men will be able to see themselves in these women," she said.
"That’s another reason I love Anthony, he makes characters human and all types of people can relate to them. ’3′ is for all people. I think that’s important for this generation. It’s not always about being black."
For tickets, see www.daniellemonetruitt.com.