Play portrays vivid life of Zora Neale Hurston

Play portrays vivid life of Zora Neale Hurston
The theatrical biography “Zora” is part of the Oceanside Public Library Big Read program centered around “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Cheryl Howard, of The American Place Theatre Company, plays Zora Neale Hurston in “Zora.” Photo by Promise Yee

OCEANSIDE — “Zora” performed by The American Place Theatre Company, shares the vivid life of Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston. The play was brought to the El Camino High School Truax Theatre Feb. 9.Actress Cheryl Howard took the stage in a high-energy solo performance, weaving in and out of a Neale Hurston monologue, talking about her life, acting out characters Neale Hurston had met, and telling bits of stories Neale Hurston had written.“It incorporates music of the era and some of her southern folklore,” said Kris Moralez, Oceanside Public Library community outreach coordinator. “It will give a sense of who she was and that authentic life she was striving to live.”

Neale Hurston lived from 1891 to 1960. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology from Bernard College and wrote African American folklore, short stories and novels in the 1930s and 1940s.

“Her impact was to be a (African American) woman writer in the Harlem Renaissance, which was really a man’s world,” Moralez said. “She was a strong woman and went after what she wanted in life.”

In the theatrical biography, Zora looks back at her life as she is returning to Florida after a 20-year writing career in New York.

“It starts when she is heading back down south in 1949,” Gwen Brownson, The American Place Theatre Company director of national education, said. “She has seen her hey day in the Renaissance. She tells folktales from ‘Mules and Men’ and quotes directly from ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God.’”

The play also displays Neal Hurston’s strong character.

“Her strength is the coming together of a brilliant author who had a command of language and an anthropologist capturing the dialect,” Brownson said. “She didn’t succumb to any trends of the time. That makes her voice really unique.”

The theatrical biography is part of the month-long Big Read program organized by Oceanside Public Library and centered around the book Neale Hurston’s book “Their Eyes Were Watching God.”

Brownson led sessions before and after the performance, allowing audience members a better understanding about Neale Hurston and the times she lived and wrote in.

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