“Even though the play is a deep, dark play, there is a lot of light in it,” says local writer Monica McDaniel of her new show, Truth Be Told. Following her 2018 production, Left Behind — Reflection, she returns with a production that examines the aftermath of sexual abuse. Truth Be Told opens at 35 below on Friday, Sept. 6.
“This is a two-part play, where you will see the stories of two different [people] going through this harsh and mind-blowing journey,” McDaniel says. She was inspired, initially, by the #MeToo movement, though her script doesn’t deal with harassment in the workplace as was often brought to light by the social media campaign. “I didn’t want it to be about that movement but about people’s stories and how they’re healing from that trauma,” she says.
Instead, the play is “bringing awareness to molestation and different types of rape and how it happens,” McDaniel explains. Both of the main characters are disabled; one is institutionalized for a mental health issue. The first story is culled from news headlines while the second, a fictional account, is presented with an element of mystery.
“I love talking about things that people don’t want to talk about, and this is a touchy subject,” McDaniel says. “Nonetheless, we need to be comfortable enough with each other to have these talks.”
The playwright and director also wants her actors to be at ease to perform the work. “I am always open to the cast doing whatever they need to do to be comfortable in their skin, comfortable in their character,” McDaniel says. For this play, “I went back and cut a lot of things because what we had originally wasn’t working. We added a lot more laughter, we added a lot more singing … trying to ease the balance of the play.”
The cast includes Ki’era Gash, who has performed in McDaniel’s plays before, with Tifphanie Darity and Naeem Akbar. Akbar’s wife, Kim Akbar, is helping behind the scenes. “We’re finding out what everyone’s strengths are,” McDaniel says.
She says she was sitting with her cousin, watching TV, when she proposed the idea, “‘What if I did a play?’ And I feel like it’s the fact that she didn’t discourage my idea, that she was OK with it, that pushed me to do it,” she recalls. The writer found she excelled at the art form, though she admits it takes time to move from one project to the next. “Doing a play takes so much of you, as a person, that you need that time to recuperate. But I feel like I’ve found my niche.”
That goal may be within reach: “Through word-of-mouth and through people discovering who I am, it’s been really rewarding and it’s opened a lot of doors that I never could have foreseen opening,” McDaniel says. Writing, she adds, is “giving myself to people. It’s touching them in ways I never thought I could have touched people.”
She mentions the late Toni Morrison as an inspiration: “Her writing was so real. That’s what I want to gravitate toward. I want my writing to be so real and so raw that people can relate to it. … I want it to be simple and powerful.”
McDaniel is the author of the 2014 poetry and short story hybrid Misty’s Blues. Her first play, The Many Personalities of the Soul…, based on her 2012 collection of poetry, The Soul of a Poet, was staged at Asheville Community Theatre. Her theatrical work, Left Behind, inspired by addiction issues in her community, debuted at the Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center.
McDaniel has talked with Asheville Community Theatre about directing a mainstage play by an African American playwright in the near future. “The cast will be a diverse cast … a majority of people of color,” she says. “We all need that.”
She continues, “There’s so much talent in this city, and sometimes we get overlooked.” But when it comes to spotlighting the skill of Asheville’s African American artists: “That’s what I’m here for.”
WHAT: Truth Be Told
WHERE: 35 below, 35 E. Walnut St., ashevilletheatre.org
WHEN: Sept. 6-21, Fridays and Saturdays, at 7:30 p.m. $15