- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2001

How can you mend a broken heart? Write a play. When David E. Talbert broke up with his college sweetheart, he played Al Greens soul-wrenching rendition of "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" over and over and over again until the vinyl grooves wore thin. He scratched the record. So, he picked up a pen and notepad and wrote about how much he still hurt. He couldnt get her out of his life.

By the time the summer of 1988 was over and the native Washingtonian returned to Morgan State University to begin his senior year, he lugged with him more than 100 poems and short stories. Granted, that is a lot of words, but they served a purpose. He not only wrote her out of his system, but moved on to tackle broader ideas. No more brooding for the marketing major. Little did he know that he had backed himself into a career.

In the cold light of dawn, his work stood up to his own standards. He took a look at his works and decided — hey, these aren´t half-bad.

The theatrical world doesn´t disagree. You can see Mr. Talbert´s latest musical play, "The Fabric of a Man," at the Warner Theatre in Northwest this weekend. The play sends a "shout out" to independent women who make the tough choices between career and companionship, Mr. Talbert, 35, says.

"The play is about a career-minded woman in a relationship with a man who wishes she would focus more on him and less on her career," says the playwright and director, who grew up on Kentucky Avenue SE.

"Fabric," starring Shemar Moore, who portrays Malcolm Winters in the daytime TV drama "The Young and the Restless," centers on a young black woman on the career fast track and the conflicts that arise when she achieves more success than her boyfriend, a graduate of an Ivy League university.

The play unravels society´s preoccupation with a person´s external trappings — how men and women evaluate one another when searching for a significant other. It´s about the money, the clothes, the car, the job, the ZIP code — that´s the fabric, Mr. Talbert says. But he gives audiences the lowdown on what it´s really all about.

"Unless a man or woman is tailor-made by God, none of the fabric will hold up. The seams are going to come apart," Mr. Talbert says.

"I don´t judge, but I look at the God-consciousness. In the play, we show that it is not as a man says, it´s as a man does. It´s about integrity," he says.

Mr. Talbert refuses to preach. He gets his message across with humor, introspection and an Everyman´s approach that has earned him the label "the people´s playwright." He thinks outside the box and shuns tags that put his plays in the "gospel" theater genre, unless the play focuses specifically on a church theme and is set in a church, he says. He prefers to call his works "soul" plays.

He has a successful formula that brings blacks out to the theater. To date, two-and-a-half million theatergoers have crammed venues to be entertained by Mr. Talbert´s keen wit and get some food for thought.

"I create characters that mirror the everyday lives of my audiences. The audiences become vested in the outcome of the characters. And it´s the characters´ ability to work out their issues onstage. The audience works out their issues, and it becomes a communal experience," Mr. Talbert says.

"What I try to put onstage is the truth about black people´s experiences and what we are going through. I give it a comedic spin, a dramatic spin and a spiritual resolve. All of my plays have moral messages and characters that go thorough redemptive processes. There´s always a moral resolve because that is what is in my heart. I am not just going to call a play gospel to attract audiences from the church, Mr. Talbert says.

A complimentary ticket to Shelley Garrett´s play "Beauty Shop" more than 10 years ago got Mr. Talbert thinking. He witnessed a new form of interactive entertainment that was explosive.

"I sat in the audience, and it was like a surreal moment. I wasn´t really watching the play — I was watching the audience. They were laughing and jumping up in the aisles. It was incredible," he says.

"I sat there daydreaming and said to myself, if the audience is going crazy over this type of entertainment, I know I can create something of my own that would take them to an even higher level," Mr. Talbert says. Besides, he figured he had the writing experience from his broken-heart days. So, in 1990, at age 24, he penned his first play, "Tellin´ It Like It Tiz," a comedy about relationships set in a women´s boutique and a barbershop. The show opened at the Black Rep in Berkeley, Calif., on Aug. 1, 1991 — it sold out, Mr. Talbert says.

When he brought the play home to DAR Constitution Hall the following New Year´s Eve, the show sold out again, he says.

Since his first theatrical success, the homeboy who essentially was raised in a storefront Pentecostal church on Capitol Hill has written and directed nine musical plays, including "Lawd Have Mercy," "What Goes Around Comes Around," "He Say … She Say: But What Does God Say," "A Fool and His Money," "Talk Show Live," "Mr. Right Now" and "His Woman, His Wife."

"Fabric" is now on a 30-city tour. And coming home from Sherman Oaks, Calif., where he now lives, is always special. Washington audiences embrace their own.

"D.C. audiences always come out. There is a commonality in our experiences from coast to coast. The audiences respond the same; however, some are livelier than others. But they get the jokes."

His plays address real issues in the black community.

"What makes the stories authentic is they´re being told by a black man who is living an authentic experience — the stories ring true. Even to those who have moved beyond the daily struggles, they still ring true. That´s why they are successful," he says.

He has been on a journey the past decade with his art. He subscribes to the intellectual W.E.B. DuBois´ philosophy.

"Black theater should have four basic components: It should be written for us, by us, about us and be located near us," Mr. Talbert says, reiterating the scholar´s position. That´s his mission.

Next up, Mr. Talbert plans to collaborate with actor, writer and director Robert Townsend. The play, "If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time," will be their spin on the classic movie "It´s a Wonderful Life," Mr. Talbert says. The play is due out next year, he says, smiling.

For dates, times and ticket prices, call the Warner Theatre at 202/628-1818.

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