SECRETS OF SHADY -
A CHITLIN REVIVAL
By Baraka Noel
Sunday, Nov. 12 at 3 p.m., the Grand Annex showcased a deconstructed theater piece by playwright and stage veteran Carla DuPree Clark. The play, entitled Secrets of Shady, was embodied by San Pedro based recording artist and entertainer Windy Barnes.
Secrets of Shady functions as an ode to the bitter soul of jazz, peppered with rousing harmonica and ghost-like laughter against the backdrop of live and recorded music played onto the production’s simple lighting and set.
Barnes revealed herself to a rather diverse crowd, sharing borrowed melodies strung between an array of voice over transitions and elaborate costume changes. Here, she serenades an enthralled audience in her silver green kimono, stringing the loose narrative between jazz standards, offset by boudoir illumination.
Compelling vocals, vivid textiles and myriad entendres engaged the show’s near sold out crowd -— despite some distraction from screens flashing in the audience.
The small ensemble performance evoked a bit of contemporary pod-
cast energy, invoking many of the greatest black artists of the 20th
century through down-home anecdotes and fictitious imaginative
concert scenes; “I know a place ain’t nobody crying.” The extracted
arc of a fictional star on the historical chitterling circuit, where “they
slept in the car or somebody’s floor.”
This homage towards aging romance, filled with implied sexu-
ality and abrupted gel shifts; interspersed with flashback, medley
and monologue was framed by the poetic license of implied audience
Unseen musician, tucked behind a half hidden piano; offstage
voices proclaimed the piece’s protagonist ‘better than Muddy and
Etta—’ quite a high bar to ascend beyond. Between transitions,
Windy sauntered on and off in-character. Signature flower, glow-
ing in makeshift blacklight with hip shimmy bravado as bits of
dialogue assured us, “she was that good.”
The semi-defined chronology spanning 25 years, she sang gos-
pel tunes in a translucent camisole over her simple summer
dress— displaying robust vocalization to consistent applause.
A story rife with recitals and abridged narrative, stretching
for the colloquialism of Zora Neale Hurston— the melodra-
ma ended with a lesson on carpe diem; in a black gown with
sleeves opening into a trailing cape, the melancholic post lude
offset by nice hats and gaudy theatrical boas.
The supportive audience reveled in Shady’s undercur-
rent of soul classics; a taste of nostalgia comforting listen-
ers through the current uncertainty of our fraught socio-
political landscape. Ms. Barnes held the stage— now in
shimmering lilac, her technical singing espousing virgin-
al virtue against stirring themes of assault and murder
— frequently peppered with a soliloquist’s chortles be-
tween built-in applause breaks and countless changes
of dress. Without question, she can hold that note.
The show ended to a standing ovation, a coda to
the heartstring tugging and impressive vocal range,
accented by enthusiastic (if nonspecific) physical
business on the carefully curated stage. Music
stand, songbook and classic -old school -radio mi-
crophone; Smart phones, straining to capture
the moment: “Here’s to you.”
Windy Barnes Farrell, in one-woman stage play, Secrets of Shady, by Carla Dupree Clark.
Photo by Arturo Garcia-Ayala