By: Tonya Jackson
Lena McNeil has a supportive husband, family, and a life changing dream to get us to reevaluate what abuse looks like and stop it in this generation. As the writer, director, and executive producer of the stage play “Love is Blind” it looks like she is well on her way to accomplishing her mission.
A few months ago McNeil began sending out flyers for her upcoming play. These flyers had haunting images that teased and promised an opportunity for mental growth. The play delivered, but like most growth, there was some pain involved. There was the pain of the female characters being bullied, manipulated, hit, and choked by the male characters. The pain of hope turning to despair. The pain of a man still wrestling with the abuse from his childhood, so he makes his wife physically feel his inner pain. Heavy issues worth looking at and removing from the human experience.
McNeil did such a great job in keeping the experience real that some attendees couldn’t look at some of the rawest pieces of the human experience. The stories are graphic and attention-getting, just like the slap “Fred-Hot” gives his wife “Sarah.” You know he’s going to hit her, but it still manages to surprise you.
Some of the elite in poetry came to Pensacola to support this play and the playwright. Tamika “Georgia Me” Harper is a Georgia native and one of McNeil’s idols. She has been featured on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and an Emmy winner. Harper shared her poetry and afterward took the time to mentor a young attendee, just as she had McNeil over ten years ago. Alabama native Huggy Bear came, gave his support, and graced the stage. Internationally known, Alex “Huggy Bear da Poet” Lofton is a featured artist in the documentary “Mobile in Black and White” and a top three finalist on the “Tom Joyner Big Break Show. Other nationally known poets participating included Kia Nicole and Nelson “The General Sparactic” Trimble. Melissa “M Love” Wall was the host for the evening. M Love is an associate director and radio personality at IBNXRadio Network.
The cast and crew of “Love is Blind” includes many talented locals. Darius “Barz” J. Felton, I was in the featured role of Romanus. De’Andre White had the role of JoShawn. Gaynelle “Spilletry” Woods was Louise. Javis “Caffeine” Dickson was Renard. Keyetta Chambers was Seven. McNeil was Sarah. Marcus “Canvas” Myles was “Fred-Hot”. Pauline “Lina Love” Jackson was Evelean. Tara Moorer was Rheatha. Timera Salter was Francis. Extras and the crew included Sandra “Judou” Wilson, Koriaun Lewis, Jamie Hawley, Mia Angeles, Breonna Moultrie, Deborah Thomas, and Charles Gibson. NcNeil’s assistant directors were LaChelle McCormick Angeles and Gwendolyn Thomas.
When I sat to talk with McNeil about the play I learned that each story came from her or friends lived experiences. McNeil shared, “This was personal. Not only in my life, my mom’s life, and my cousin’s life also. I took our experiences and turned them into something positive. Instead of feeling defeated or alone, we put ourselves out there so others could get that release and not carry the shame. Some people walked out because they thought the play was little too intense, one attendee left in tears. I didn’t want anyone to feel broken or get so far in the memory of their pain that I caused them more pain, but it’s my hope that they left and realized that they can change their situation.”
Knowing that McNeil is a survivor is only gives you part of the story. This amazing woman and her family rallied together to nurture her dream. When she was working a job that numbed her soul to the point she was crying before every shift, her husband took her notepad and wrote two simple words…”JUST QUIT.” She did, and her husband then started working three jobs to support the family and to make sure that when she’s not writing she can go to Atlanta to audition for parts. Her mom and cousin make she that she gets to those auditions and that her children are safe. Her stepfather encourages her emotionally and financially. When McNeil makes it to the other side of the struggle, it will be because she has a village with her and the talent to see her dreams come true.
McNeil has promised that she and the cast will return later this month for an encore of “Love is Blind” and later this year with “Love is Blind 2.” For additional details, please call or text her at 850.454.4907 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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