At the Arlington Theatre, Wednesday, May 3.
Reviewed by Shannon Kelley Gould
From the moment Maya Angelou walked onto the stage of the Arlington Theatre last Wednesday night, she held the audience in the palm of her hand. The production began with a medley from the Inner Light Community Church’s choir, Mama’s Voices, which featured “This Little Light of Mine,” whose message became the theme of the evening. When Angelou appeared, she came to the podium singing it, immediately casting a spell on the crowd. She spoke, sang, and read to the packed house about her life, and the little “lights” that had shone on her throughout, helping to illuminate her most extraordinary of paths. Lights are always shining on us, she said; you just never know where they might be coming from.
Angelou alternately sat and stood, explaining that her once “good” left knee had recently become sympathetic to her “bad” right one. But although her joints may not be what they used to be, the woman was as sharp as ever. She spoke of her disabled Uncle Willie, who raised her and her brother Bailey along with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas, and taught her multiplication. She read from some of her favorite poets, among them James Weldon Johnson and Paul Laurence Dunbar, and reminisced about gazing at the then-brand-new United Nations building in San Francisco when she was 16 years old, thinking to herself, “If only I wasn’t black, poor, young, uneducated, and pregnant, I could get inside.” At the 50th anniversary of the UN’s founding, she was invited there to read “A Brave and Startling Truth.” Although written more than 10 years ago, its message of peace rings truer than ever today.
She said she’s often asked how she made it through, and said, “There’s no one who hasn’t gone to bed feeling sadness, loneliness, or despair. We get up, that’s just what we do.” Making the point that we’re all the same, she called upon a quote from Terentius Afer, a slave who was sold to a Roman Senator and then freed by that Senator, who went on to become the most popular playwright in Rome. “‘I am a human being, nothing human can be alien to me.’ Imagine. …” she said, in her inimitable, melodic voice, making the crowd do just that. Just as she always does.