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A story to tell 

Michael Atkins Yawn has a lot of big ideas to fit into a little theater.

            Yawn is the artistic director of the three-month old Imani Theatre Ensemble, the city's first and only all-African-American theater group. He is now leading the troupe in rehearsals for The Homeboys, a play he wrote (and the ensemble's second production).

            As any leader of a community theater group, Yawn fills many roles. During a recent rehearsal he called the security company for a malfunctioning alarm, blocked the action ("nobody's paying to see your back"), prompted lines, and reminded his (mostly teenaged) cast not to jump off the wheelchair ramp.

            Imani is working out of Dazzle Theatre on Webster Street. Northeast Area Development and the Dazzle School of Visual and Performing Arts converted the old movie theater into a 173-occupancy performance space last November. Dazzle is still waiting on grants to buy curtains, lights, and a sound system.

            In the meantime, the action takes place against a black wall. "Yeah, we'll probably have a set," Yawn says. For him, right now, the set may not be the point.

            Yawn, who has been in theater for 30 years, created Imani to give "opportunities for African-Americans to tell some of our stories from the stage." Specifically, The Homeboys, tells the story of street gangs. It's a well-worn issue, but Yawn took pains to avoid stereotypes. He gave the gang leader a pair of solid, concerned parents to "show that the family can be upstanding." And he gave women strong roles. "You don't see that sometimes," he says. "They've got dreams that get sidetracked."

            Anthony Martinez, a junior at Wilson Magnet High School, plays the leader of the Homeboys. He says, with a steady and unnervingly serious gaze, "[The play's] about how my death helps everyone straighten their lives out."

            Cassandra Turner, a junior at Edison Tech who is also in the play, thinks people will like the show. "It's very realistic," she says. "This stuff has happened to people in the community."

            Rehearsal resumes, and Yawn calls the actors back to their places. "I know it's a lot," he says, "but practice makes perfection."

            Imani Theatre Ensemble presents "The Homeboys" Fridays and Saturdays, April 16 through 24, at Dazzle Theatre, 112 Webster Avenue. Info: 503-7633.

--- Erica Curtis

Trees in memory

A reader called to mourn five shade trees that city workers cut down late last week in a busy pedestrian zone.

            Standing along the curb on the north side of Park Avenue just west of Berkeley Street, the trees offered an aesthetic break from the mini-plaza parking lot beside them. Now without them (even before spring leafout) the site looks bare indeed.

            One store manager we talked to said she didn't know the trees were coming down. But City Forester Ian Nadar says his staff informed nearby residents by mail and also made a presentation to the Park Avenue Merchants Association.

            The trees, all littleleaf lindens, were in bad shape, and three of the five were in "dangerous" condition, says Nadar. The five will be replaced with new trees, he says.

            Common street trees like lindens, Norway maples, and honey locusts can cause "sidewalk lifting" and other problems, says Nadar. But as he explains, city crews try to work around the problems without resorting to the chain saw.

            For example, says Nadar, workers recently dealt with several shade trees that were heaving some asphalt near the Flint Street Recreation Center. In that case, he says, it was possible to remove a bit of asphalt, not the trees.

'Cheeseburger' politics

The philosophy of the Republican Party boils --- ahem --- down to cheeseburgers.

            So Larry Staub, vice-chair of the Monroe County GOP, told students at MCC's Damon City Campus recently. The campus held a forum to discuss political party platforms. Staub represented the GOP. The Democratic torch was carried by county Democratic Chairwoman Molly Clifford.

            The fact that 137 Democrats voted against the so-called "Cheeseburger Bill," which protects restaurants like McDonald's from obesity-related lawsuits, shows that Democrats believe "you can sue your way to better health," Staub said.

            "Taking responsibility for one's own actions --- that's the crux of what the Republican Party stands for," he said.

            Democrats, Clifford said, believe that until everyone has the same opportunities in terms of education, health care, and jobs, "government has to help."

            The government and the Democratic Party, Clifford said, can work together to be "a force for good" in this country.

            Staub and Clifford took questions from the audience on school nurses, Iraq, jobs, and other issues.

            The invasion of Iraq was "a sensible action," Staub said, adding that the world is safer without Saddam Hussein in power.

            Democrats support American troops, argued Clifford, but the invasion raises troubling questions about the failure to find WMDs, the continuing upheaval in Iraq, why Iraq was singled out when other countries have equally brutal dictators, and the fact that the invasion lacked international support.

Marketing cooperation

The Abundance Cooperative Market is celebrating its third birthday with activities April 2 through 4 at the store, 62 Marshall Street. (Actually, there's a much longer lineage: Abundance developed out of the old Genesee Co-op Foodstore on Monroe Avenue, which traced its history back to the 1960s.) A true member-owned cooperative, the store now has 800 shareholder-owners.

            The celebrations will start Friday, 7 p.m., with an opening for a show featuring photographs by several Abundance members. On Saturday morning, WYSL radio host Michael Warren Thomas will broadcast live from the store. And on Saturday and Sunday, there will be music by the Darlings, a blues-folk group; pianist Kevin Fukugawa; and "folk 'n' roll" performers Doug Waterman and Bobby Maville. Also, Bill and Djed's Excellent Adventure, a storytelling group, will be on hand Saturday for blues and poetry.

            For more information, call Abundance manager Jackie Farrell, 454-2667; or visit www.abundancecoop.com.

Future of your health

Two experts on health care reform will face off this week on the best way to improve America's health systems.

On Monday, April 5, 7 p.m., at the Rochester Academy of Medicine, 1441East Avenue, Dr. Steffie Woolhandler of Harvard Medical School and Physicians for a National Health Program will debate Dr. William Dolan, past president of the Medical Society of the State of New York and the Monroe County Medical Society.

Woolhandler will speak for single-payer universal health care, a system similar to those in almost all other advanced industrial nations. Dolan will represent the views of the American Medical Association, which favors keeping the employer-based health insurance system and increasing coverage through tax credits.

The free event is sponsored by the American Medical Student Association (which favors single-payer), the American Medical Association Student Section, the Interfaith Health Alliance, the Greater Rochester Community of Churches, and the Downtown Community Forum. To RSVP, and for more information, contact UR med student Corey Fehnel, 244-4817; corey_fehnel@urmc.rochester.edu.

Correcting ourselves

In his March 3 "Gut instincts" review of Infantino's, Adam Wilcox incorrectly implied that there was butter (a ton of it) in the restaurant's greens and beans. There is, in fact, no butter in the dish. Our apologies to Infantino's and the lactose intolerant.

            In Annual Manual 2004, the neighborhoods article ("Claiming your turf") incorrectly implies that Chili Avenue stretches into the South West Area Neighborhood. And the arts and culture article ("They call that culture,") neglected to mention the theater productions at JCCenterstage. The Centerstage at Jewish Community Center is a professional community theater that offers high-quality shows throughout the year.

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