It is difficult to quantify and nearly impossible to overstate how meaningful it is to see alternately refreshing and frighteningly familiar, compellingly complex, and positively potent (otherwise relatively invisible) faces, places, and circumstances in art, media, and literature.
Enter organizations like The Classical Theatre of Harlem and the Hip-Hop Theater Festival and their joint production of SEED at the National Black Theatre. According to producers Clyde Valentin and Ty Jones in a letter insert from the play's program, Rhada Blank's play is "the epitome of [their] respective missions [of] bringing both classic and contemporary stories to the stage with a specific dedication to serving artists of color and underserved audiences."
SEED chronicles the rescue of a gifted young boy named Che-Che (for short) from stifling environs by Anne Colleen Simpson, a social worker on an essential sabbatical. Lauded in her field for the lengths she went to for her clients, but haunted by a "lost one" whose backstory parallels her own, Simpson resorts to a desperate measure to save Che-Che that, ultimately, impacts his family and community as well.
From the play's literary setting to its literal staging at the National Black Theatre, SEED is firmly rooted in Harlem. Prior to "lights up," the audience is immersed in sights and sounds of the neighborhood as images of historical and everyday landmarks are projected on a screen at the back of the thrust stage.
This screen, framed by columns on either side with translucent rotating screens behind and from which characters occasionally appear and emerge, later transports the audience to locales like the subway and characters' homes and jobs. The unassuming set design, rounded out by a few basic but telling set pieces, including couches and bookcases, spot lighting, and the thrust stage, helps draw the audience in to focus on the rich story and fine performances.