REVIEW:  Dreams proceed with caution for Central Square Theater’s illuminating ‘Young Nerds of Color’

When I first witnessed the hit film Hidden Figures, I was absolutely amazed for a couple of reasons.  In the early 60’s, a team of phenomenal NASA mathematicians were so talented that some astronauts including Neil Armstrong refused to board the space shuttle without their astute calculations.  The other amazing and frustrating detail is that for all that these African-American women accomplished, I had never heard of them or worse, was never taught about them at school.  Hidden Figures stayed with me.  These genius mathematicians made such an indelible impact in the world and yet, I was learning about them for the first time in this film.

‘Young Nerds of Color’ cast and creative team Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Directed remarkably by Dawn M. Simmons, Underground Railway at Central Square Theater presents Young Nerds of Color arranged by Melinda Lopez live in person through March 20 at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, MA and virtually through April 3.  The show is approximately 75 minutes with no intermission.    Click here for more information, tickets, and COVID-19 guidelines.

The night before reviewing Young Nerds of Color, I attended an astronomy group meeting that featured a documentary about a rarely predictable phenomenon.  A professor claimed he knew when the next supernova would occur.  A supernova is when a star explodes and disperses its matter into the galaxy.   It turns out the professor made a tragic miscalculation and the supernova never occurred in the documentary.  However, Young Nerds of Color depicts two beautiful ones thanks to Andrea Sofia Sala’s innovative lighting while also symbolically illuminating some big and impactful ideas such as the discovery that matter from a supernova is directly connected to eyesight. 

Lindsey McWhorter as Portia Long, Daniel Rios Jr as Reinaldo Herrera and DJ Lopez, and Alison Yueming Qu As Chloe Chen Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

An educational and unconventional play full of discoveries, Young Nerds of Color translates like a flowing and collaborative academic dialogue among geniuses with performances so subtle and convincing that I had to glance back at the program to make sure they were actors and not the actual professionals they are depicting.  A show gathered from 60 interviews with real life scientists, cast members deliver their point of view in their own unique style as they discuss the journey to make their ambitions come to life. 

Ricardo Engermann as Jim Gates, DJ Thomas, Reinaldo Herrera and DJ Lopez Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Sponsored in part by MIT, Young Nerds of Color examines the lives of renowned scientists and engineers from diverse backgrounds whose career dreams were more difficult to achieve than they ever expected even before they discovered that dream.   Living in pre-segregated Boston, racism and economic struggles was just a portion of the challenges they faced for being “young nerds of color.”  They all collaboratively take on the role of scientist and educator as they share with the audience and usher in the next generation to proceed toward their dreams with cautious optimism.

Lindsey McWhorter as Portia Long and Karina Beleno Carney as Dr Maria Hernandez Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Shelley Barish’s straightforward and illuminated set features two double helixes that might also symbolize that long career ladder and periodic table while Nona Hendryx creates memorable compositions with catchy and cosmic-sounding rhythms and original music.

Some of the cast depicts multiple roles and have engaging chemistry as they portray the journey from childhood experiments fueled by curiosity to those dangerous discoveries that can change the world all while presenting themselves in a way that society might accept so they too might thrive.   I should have learned about this astounding group before now.

Hidden Figures stayed with me and Young Nerds of Color sure does too.

Underground Railway at Central Square Theater presents Young Nerds of Color arranged by Melinda Lopez live in person through March 20 at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, MA and virtually through April 3.  The show is approximately 75 minutes with no intermission.    Click here for more information, tickets, and COVID-19 guidelines.

The 23rd annual Screen Actors Guild Award winners and New England viewing party at Laugh Boston

Kicking off without a hitch, the 23rd annual Screen Actors Guild Awards was an evening of political statements, undeniable talent, and surprises on Sunday, January 29 at 8 p.m.  To celebrate, SAG-AFTRA’s New England chapter celebrated with their 5th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards Viewing Party at Laugh Boston.  The festive evening included an official red carpet for photos, cash bar, full dinner, cake, raffles, and prizes.  Television screens showcased the awards show throughout the venue.  Click here to learn more about the New England chapter and where all the viewing parties take place here.

Broadcast on TNT and TBS, The Screen Actors Guild Awards had its share of excitement and surprises.  Among the many acceptance speeches that delved into the state of the world, winner Julia-Louis Dreyfus of Veep shared her story of her immigrant father and her love for the United States.  Perhaps the most powerful moment of the evening was the surprise win for the popular Sci-Fi Netflix series Stranger Things.  Bringing the crowd to its feet, David Harbour, who portrays Chief Jim Hopper, made a metaphorical statement about fighting fear and exclusivity through great acting in a mostly narcissistic culture.  He spoke about battling the monsters and bullies of real life, helping to bring unity to the world.

Unfortunately, Jane Fonda could not attend the awards show to complete the 9 to 5 reunion, but Dolly Parton was her usual engaging, humorous self presenting friend, comedian, and actress Lily Tomlin with the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award.  The Screen Actors Guild Awards also took a moment to acknowledge actors lost in 2016, an especially tough year.  Prince, Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher, Mary Tyler Moore, Garry Shandling, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Gene Wilder, and Garry Marshall were among the long list of memorable faces in a tear-jerking tribute.

The Screen Actors Guild Awards are awarded to actors in the film and television industry from fellow actors, some of the big winners of the evening included Denzel Washington and Viola Davis for Fences, Emma Stone for La La Land, the cast of Hidden Figures, as well as Claire Foy and John Lithgow for The Crown, Click here for the full list of recipients.