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On a cold January night last weekend, Renaissance Theaterworks opened an autobiographical play titled Neat by award winning playwright Charlayne Woodard. This young African American playwright first began her career as an author inspired by a quote from Maya Angelou: “If you don’t like something, change it.” 

Woodard at once stopped complaining about her experiences and began to write one woman plays in which she could perform to initiate other acting venues for her career. This production Neat recalls the story of Woodard’s aunt, the play’s namesake, and an unusual person whose own life was changed through unfortunate circumstances when Neat was an infant. Yet, through those unfortunate circumstances shines a clear, positive power in Woodard’s play where she often repeats the line, “Life doesn’t get any better than this.” 

These often simple "better than ever" life moments might sometimes be overlooked but unfolded as Woodard relates the tales to her Georgia background that became her coming of age story she transported to Albany, New York. Her own childhood blended African American, Jewish and Southern traditions to make Woodard a distinctly sensitive person significantly influenced by her Aunt Neat. 

To reveal the details of the play might spoil the delightful surprise in Woodard’s appreciation for the smallest nuances in a life, whether it is a cherry thrill (much like a cherry popsicle), sitting under a starry sky or a fresh snow fall. While Renaissance Theaterworks chose Woodard’s Neat to showcase their annual Diversity Series, the script transcends culture and skin color, similar to The Rep’s Yellowman last fall. 

Neat’s life and person, while often subjected to being ignored, overlooked and sometimes highly abused in contemporary culture contributes significantly to the lives of others through remarkable events in Woodard's play. Regardless of skin color, Neat represents that singular soul inhabiting each person who can definitely make a contribution to someone else, to other lives, if they choose to. When disturbing or ‘bad things’ happen, as happens in Woodard's Neat, the play proves that redemptive qualities can transform misfortune into a treasure fortune. One individual…one life…one person who can only see and act in the world as they might be specifically be called to do.    

The beautiful actor, Uprooted Theatre’s co-founder Marti Gobel, captures each of the 24 characters in Woodard’s life, including Charlayne and Neat, with realistic sensibility and daring charm. Throughout the evening, Gobel acts, dances, sings and storytells with captivating charisma in this poetic, tender play that celebrates the power unleashed through only one life.  

One life represented by: Woodard, who wished to change how African Americans were portrayed in the theater. Or represented by Gobel, an African American actor who can inspire an audience to experience heartbreak and joy in one evening’s production. And Neat, that courageous woman least on society’s list to praise, who can perhaps be seen as most praise worthy of all. While two persons together can be infinitely better than one, proven by the Renaissance Theaterworks community themselves, often it requires only one person to spark change. Go alone to the production if one needs to, then believe in the power of one life to change the world for the better. Believe in that power to begin those changes by one small action. Believe that this one moment starts now. 

Reanissance Theaterworks presents Marti Gobel starring in Neat at the Broadway Theatre Center through February 5.For information or tickets call: 414.291.7500 or click the link to the left. 



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