Grade 8, created and performed by Dwayne Morgan, is a spoken-word story telling experience that explores the joys and hardships of a single father raising his daughter.

Morgan is a veteran of the spoken word circuit, and the vocal presence he developed in this arena is definitely the most notable strength of this production. Morgan moves fluidly from prose monologue into verse and back again with ease that makes the verse form seem like the natural extension of everyday speech that it must be to succeed. The father character moves into verse in a way that feels motivated by his experience of reality, rather than by some desire of the creator to insert a poem at a particular juncture in the piece.

Photograph courtesy of Up From the Roots
Photograph courtesy of Up From the Roots

The specific elements of the story between the father and daughter also rang true in a pleasant way that made them feel universal without being stereotypical or forced. Morgan’s strengths as a storyteller and performer undoubtedly come through in this piece to give the audience the feels at all the right moments.

I do think that this show could use some work in its more abstract, philosophical moments. Here, all the specificity of the personal narrative, all its showing what makes this father-daughter relationship special, gives way to a sort of interior monologue of paternal anxieties that didn’t work for me. The principal reason I didn’t like it is because it felt like the depiction of men and women, while not following the most traditional narrative, is stuck somewhere in the past of this discourse that makes it feel backwards. The dialogue has moved past the point where prostitutes are prostitutes because of a lack of love they experienced from their fathers. This struck me as a simplification and a sort of judgment without evidence; we only hear a post hoc rationalization of an experience the father had in high school with one of “these women,” without his ever speaking to them or sharing their voices in the story. I wanted Morgan to engage more with these issues, rather than glossing them over as things too scary for a single father to consider.

Grade 8 stands on the merits of a well-told story about the love between a father and daughter. When the daughter speaks the relationship becomes vividly real and lovely, and it is clear that Morgan has raised a winner of a show, not to mention a daughter.

Wes Babcock


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