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In the News > The Rise and Fall of Miss Thang

African Diaspora
7 Jan 2008

African Diaspora
The Rise and Fall of Miss Thang
By RONNIE SCHEIB

A Lavender House presentation of a Lavender House/Miss Thang production. Produced by Stacie Hawkins. Executive producers, Ayeshah Wright, Ben F. Hawkins. Directed, written by Stacie Hawkins.

With: Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Dori King, Trinia Defournou, Martin Dumas III, Bryan Robert Smith, Ayre King III.

There's something oddly appealing in the apparent amateurism of "The Rise and Fall of Miss Thang," Stacie Hawkins' colorful but bare-bones indie about a young woman's transformation from feckless party girl to dedicated tap dancer. Chicago-set, HD-lensed pic is as weirdly underpopulated as its scenario is full of temporal black holes. Deliberately or not, tyro writer-helmer Hawkins has fallen into a curious shorthand form of storytelling that largely dispenses with conventional narrative flow, yet the many jazzlike, improvisatory tap numbers nicely combine looseness with genuine professionalism. Non-generic curio may hoof its way into a black-themed cable niche.
"Thang" proceeds from scene to scene with little setup or connective tissue. An under-the-credits sequence silently limns the death of the 12-year-old heroine's famous tap-dancer dad. Cut to the present, in which a grown-up Dee Martin (prima tapper Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards), queen of the nightspots in her guise as Miss Thang, is at loose ends after having been two-timed by her no-good DJ boyfriend (Bryan Robert Smith).

In successive tableaux, Dee is pushed by her gambling-addicted mother (Dori King) to work in her beauty salon, goosed by her college-bound girlfriend/clubbing partner (Trina Defournou) to get a life, and encouraged by a good-looking tap dancer (Martin Dumas III) to pursue her talent, which has been almost totally suppressed since her dad's death ("I didn't know you could dance like that, girl").

Locales vacillate between the boldly colored abstract spaces of the beauty salon and the comfortable anonymity of the dance studio, both registering more as sets than as lived-in spaces. Thesps create an intimacy all the more intense for not being anchored to any realistic context, and pic's technical awkwardness lends a somewhat surreal cast to the proceedings. Indeed, much of the drama transpires against artificial-seeming, musical-like backgrounds, while the dance numbers themselves actually tone down and naturalize the space.

Thus Dee, laying down her broom, executes a great solo riff in flip-flops, the slapping rubber imposing a different percussive beat than her wooden high heels or regulation tap shoes. Most numbers are picked up free-style by the guys and Sumbry-Edwards (the first woman cast member in Savion Glover's "Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk") in the current, loose-limbed mode of tapping that harks back to Bill Robinson and the Nicholas Brothers.

In similarly understated fashion, Dee's triumphant final performance (brilliantly choreographed and danced by Sumbry-Edwards) plays to a small, if wildly enthusiastic, audience on folding chairs.

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Camera (color, HD), Carlos M. Jimenez; editor, Sue Lawson, music, Warmth; production designer, Nisha Patel; costume designer, Michael A. Stein; sound, Jorn Lavoll. Reviewed on DVD, New York, Dec. 10, 2007. (In African Diaspora Film Festival, New York.) Running time: 89 MIN.

Ronnie Scheib