One-woman Fringe show tackles heavy topic in Germantown but not a ‘woe-is-me’ tale

Cymande Lewis is the writer, producer and performer of the one-woman show “My Name is Sam Johnson” which is returning for the second year as part of the 2012 Live Arts Festival & Philly Fringe.

From a first impression of her warm and personable demeanor, one would never know that Lewis has darkness in her past, but her show, which will be performced at the Historic Germantown Theatre Centre next week, is a personal account of abuse she suffered as a child.

Born in Philadelphia, Lewis was sent to live with a family friend in Vermont when she was five. There, she and her brother suffered child abuse at the hands of their caretaker.

When Lewis became an adult and had children of her own, she began to investigate her painful past.

Facing demons

In an attempt to live a healthier lifestyle, Lewis began running every day. While running, she began to grapple with the experiences she had as a child.

With her longtime friend and director, Vashti DuBois, who is also participating in the Festival, the two took Lewis’s thoughts and developed them into a work of art.

“With Vashti, I feel as an artist, a comfort level, no matter how crazy my ideas seem,” Lewis explained.

The play, which started as a series of vignettes became a one-woman show, sewn together by Lewis learning how to run and managing the challenges of her life.

“I took these stories which were not written in a theatrical voice and stepped back enough to turn this into a piece,” she recalled.

More than darkness

The play, which runs about 90 minutes, certainly deals with some heavy material, but “this is not a ‘woe is me tale,'” DuBois explained.

Instead, the play revolves around curiosity about unearthing a conflicted past and the development that results.

“Every time I pick up the show I find different nuances, epiphanies,” Lewis told NewsWorks. “To me, it’s a living breathing organism, constantly shifting.”

The play runs Sept. 20-22 at the Historic Germantown Theatre Centre, 4821 Germantown Ave. For show times and tickets, visit www.mynameissamjohnson.com.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.