Local playwright shifts work about African-American relationships to big screen

Friday, May 29, 2009 at 1:00am

Nashville playwright Mary McCallum has penned several provocative and popular works dealing with relationships and situations both inside the black community and throughout society as a whole.

But she'd never taken on the challenge of converting her work to another field until she had a meeting with director Howard Bell IV and producer/actress/editor Nicolle Whalen following a performance of her recent work The 70 % Club.

"Howard came to a performance and was really enthusiastic about what he saw and its possibilities as a feature film," McCallum said. "It wasn't something that I had initially thought about it, but after he explained his plans, it seemed like a great idea."

Now the filmed version of The 70 % Club has been completed, following what McCallum terms a "guerilla pace" that involved a 30-day shoot plus editing (which was done by Whalen). It will be shown Saturday night at Tennessee State University's Avon Williams campus on Charlotte Avenue at 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 6 p.m., and comedian Richard Hirsch from Comic View will perform before the screening. Tickets are $7 in advance and $12 at the door.

The 70 % Club looks at the ongoing situation in which so many women find themselves not only single, but with few prospects of even meeting potential boyfriends. It's based on findings by various surveys that show currently some 70 percent of black women are without husbands or boyfriends, as opposed to 51 percent of Latino women and 45 percent of white women. It doesn't operate from the premise that single women are helpless or that women can't exist without men. But it does raise questions about how different women handle this situation and what it might mean for society in the future.

It addresses the issue by contrasting two couples. One seems happy and fulfilled, the other is disintegrating. The play uses their ongoing relationship and problems as a mirror into a world where it's difficult to find happiness and where differing expectations and clashing viewpoints can quickly destroy any chance for long-term romantic stability.

McCallum, who did the screenplay, said it wasn't quite as difficult as she anticipated in making the thematic switch, but that there were some things that had to be adjusted.

"There were some areas in the play that didn't really fit into a film setting and had to be cut," McCallum said. "But there were also some things that we could get into with the movie that we had to shorten a bit in terms of the play. When you're talking about camera angles and different locales, you get some additional freedom. But you have to be careful because in the play it's mainly about dialog and exposition. With a film, you also have to think about supporting action and other areas where you might need to add some elements."

The cast includes Darius Willis, David Chattam, Shawn Shitsell, Tamiko Robinson, Alicia Ridley, Molly Breen, Rashad Rayford, Lene India and McCallum. DVDs will be available soon online at 70percentclub.com.

"This was a great challenge, and I'm really pleased with what Howard and Nicolle did in helping us transfer this to film," McCallum said. "I think even if you haven't seen the play that you'll appreciate it, and if you have you'll get a different type of appreciation for it after seeing it on the big screen."