In “The Promise,” Neat moves to New York, too, arriving as a disheveled adult who “looked country,” and “Snow” describes her initial winter up north, where she experienced her first snowfall. “Flip” describes Woodard’s mishap with a trendy new hairdo, undone during a swimming class at school, but redeemed overnight by her mother, with a cornrow remedy that intrigued her (mostly white) classmates.
To be sure, not all of the vignettes register as particularly significant, in terms of illustrating how Neat supposedly enlightened Woodard’s formative years. “Say It Loud” probably serves that function best. The script never explains why it is that Woodard grew up attending Hebrew school and studying Jewish culture and religion, but when Neat asks her about their own African American ancestry, it prompts her to research the history of slavery and apartheid, and eventually to embark on a journey of political awakening and social activism.
“I went from Jane Austen to James Baldwin, from Emily Dickinson to Nikki Giovanni,” she says. Her ’60s flip gave way to a ’70s Afro, and her father took none too well to the Angela Davis poster in her bedroom. Sadly, even eerily, when she reflects on a peaceful protest at her high school, and the violent reaction to it by the local police, Woodard could just as easily be talking about 2020.
Charity Purvis Jordan appears in the Actor's Express show "Neat," streaming through Nov. 22.
Courtesy of Actor's Express
“Bowman,” on the other hand, about her courtship with a tough-talking jock, is fairly superfluous, given how negligibly Neat factors into it. Similarly, other segments (“Saved,” “Goldie”) — detailing Neat’s unexpected pregnancy, the birth of her daughter, and the identity of the child’s (white) father — seem to barely involve Woodard herself.
The final monologue, “Flight,” ties back in nicely with the opening of the show (featuring Jordan singing the spiritual “On the Wings of a Dove”), but it otherwise feels oddly unmoving and anticlimactic.
An interesting footnote: Actor’s Express has configured ticket prices for “Neat” based on the number of viewers and devices enabled and utilized to stream it, with an option to contribute the proceeds to specific members of the company (besides Jordan and Little, also including directors of photography Charles Robinson and Divie Moss, and technical director Chad Fenimore, among others). That’s pretty neat, indeed.
Available for streaming through Nov. 22. 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday. $15-$50. 404-607-7469, actors-express.com.
Bottom line: A one-woman show of episodic vignettes, some of which are more purposeful than others.