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A couple of years ago, an interracial couple told Miami actress Christina Alexander that several churches had refused to marry them. This sparked an idea — for a one-woman show about equality told from multiple points of view, connecting the historical and emotional dots between interracial and gay marriage. The resulting production, Hate! An American Love Story, received a workshop last fall at the M Ensemble Company and will enjoy its world premiere this Friday through February 23 at Miami Theater Center's flexible, 50-seat SandBox space.
Alexander, who won Miami New Times' Best Actress award last year for her dynamic performance in the M Ensemble's Harlem Duet, will portray eight characters across 16 monologues, including a Southern white woman confronting the reality that her sister is marrying a black man; a 15-year-old Caucasian girl who is knocked up by a 19-year-old black man; and a seemingly heterosexual serviceman who realizes he's gay while the U.S. military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy is in force. The first act explores these characters' predicaments, and the second reveals how they change because of their life experiences.
There's no autobiography in the show, but Alexander sees herself in all of the characters. As recently as 2011, she points out, religious institutions in Southern states have refused to marry whites and blacks. Apparently, as long as there are Confederate gift shops and mint juleps, there will be enough white resentment to keep hate alive.
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"I approached it in a really academic way," she says. "I had an idea of the stories I wanted to tell, so I did the work of interviewing lots of people, getting lots of perspectives, and waiting for inspiration, which wasn't the easiest or most prudent choice, but it worked out. It was igniting the anthropologist in me, to want to jump into these different characters."
When devising the structure, Alexander analyzed previous solo-theater successes such as I Am My Own Wife, The Vagina Monologues, and No Child, and for the workshop production, she sought direction from Karen Stephens, an actress with extensive solo-theater experience. But this time, it's all Alexander, as writer, director, and star in a new, more intimate space. The stage at MTC, once a proscenium, is now surrounded by audiences in a thrust formation.
All actors put themselves out there, but for Alexander's first one-person show, it's especially personal. "It's pretty naked in a way, because it's a piece that I wrote," she says. "I have more than just the unsettled feelings you get before a show opens. It's very sobering from the perspective of a performer, because I've always been able to hide behind someone else's words. [This time] if somebody doesn't like it, they don't like me."
Be prepared for some audience interaction. In her various guises, Alexander uses the aisles, sits next to patrons, asks them for small favors, and even offers them snacks. All of which is appropriate for a show about breaking barriers, in more ways than one. When theatergoers leave the auditorium, Alexander hopes they'll be talking about the uncomfortable subjects explored in her show.
"I want you to, at some point, go, 'That's me, that's my mom, that's my uncle, that's my best friend. We just had this conversation.' I like the fact that the theater is set up so that everybody can see everybody. It makes the audience a part of the show in another way. I want us to be talking, because I feel like this is the conversation we're having in our homes."