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Grammy winner joins local play opening Thursday

WANT TO GO?

"Battered but not Broken"

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Capitol Center Theater, 123 Summers St.

COST: $25 Thursday; $19.50, $27.50 and $34.50 Friday and Saturday

INFO: 304-610-1143 or www.milkywayproductions.net CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For Grammy-winning singer Ann Nesby, taking part in Charleston resident Cynthia Wilson's play "Battered but not Broken" was a no-brainer. The play, which comes to the Capitol Center Theater Dec. 6-8, revolves around the issue of domestic violence, and Nesby, who led the contemporary gospel group Sounds of Blackness for eight years before pursuing a solo career in 1996, is an advocate for abused women.

"My platform has been about being an assistant and giving help to women who have been battered," said Nesby, calling from her home in Atlanta.

"Even though you're battered and abused, either physically or mentally, you can always bounce back. There is life after abuse. You have to have courage; you have to take the first step to admit it and get help."

Also, though she has personally never been a victim, Nesby has been affected by domestic violence. Her aunt was abused, and as her cousins grew up, they too became involved in abusive relationships.

"As a young girl, I watched [my aunt] go through all the different stages of being abused: denying the fact, trying to hide the bruises, almost coming to the point of death before realizing this is a no-win situation and it's time to move on.

"[My cousins] followed in her same footsteps as opposed to going in the opposite direction," she said. "This play constitutes the same idea -- that as opposed to going away from it, we sometimes perpetuate it, unaware, to our daughters or other people that it's OK. And it's not OK."

In Wilson's play, first staged in Charleston in late August, the main character, Justina, grows up seeing her mother abused and later becomes a victim of domestic violence herself. However, unlike her mother, she finds the strength to leave the relationship.

Nesby plays Dolores, Justina's abused mother. Brianna Moreland, who was Chris Rock's wife in the comedy "What to Expect When You're Expecting" earlier this year, plays Justina, and William Jackson, who has appeared on Tyler Perry's TV show "For Better or Worse," is Justina's husband, Sebastian.

Playwright Donald Gray directs the show, which is another thing about it that appealed to Nesby. "I've known him throughout the years, and we've always wanted to work together."

Nesby is no stranger to the stage, and not just as a singer. Before she joined Sounds of Blackness, Nesby appeared in Worth Gardner and Donald Lawrence's "Sing Hallelujah," both in its premiere at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park in 1986 and during it's off-Broadway run.

Among her other theater credits, she appeared in Tyler Perry's first major theatrical production, "I Know I've Been Changed," from 1998 to 2000 and toured with a cast including Morris Chestnut and Destiny Child's Michelle Williams, in David E. Talbert's "What My Husband Doesn't Know."

Theater, Nesby said, is the best of both worlds for her.

"Theater and music have always been a part of my life. I did school theater from elementary school through high school, and I was singing in the family church since age 4.

"I come from a very musically-inclined family," she noted. "My father is a Baptist pastor and has been pastoring a church for 40 years. My mother is a missionary and is also a great theatrical and musical person. It's on both sides, a tradition in my family."

The tradition has spread to other generations, too. Nesby's daughter, Jamecia Bennett, was part of Sounds of Blackness, and her granddaughter, Paris Bennett, finished fifth on the fifth season of "American Idol."

Gathering and singing with family is one of Nesby's favorite parts of the holiday season, and perhaps this year, they'll add a new song to their repertoire: Nesby's newly-released single,"Holiday Love."

That's just some of the new music she has for fans. In January, she'll release a new, as-yet-untitled album on her new label, Arrow Records.

"It's inspirational," she said. "It's R&B-based, but I always have at least two or three gospel-based songs on R&B projects because it's who I am, and it's important to connect with a fan base you've already established."

After "Battered but not Broken," she may have some new members in that fan base.

Reach Amy Robinson at flipside@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4881.


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