Maya Angelou

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.


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