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'Matters Of The Heart' Is A Celebration Of Mothers And Sisterhood

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Courtesy
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As we near Mother’s Day, lots of people will express their love for women who’ve made a difference in their lives. Cherrie Dennis Cottner has found a way to honor her late mom and many others through an all-female play she’s written called Matters of the Heart.

For 49 years Cherrie Dennis Cottner has been the Minister of Music at St. James Missionary Baptist Church in Wichita. She’s always loved music and remembers at the tender age of 12 running in from playing outside and sitting down at the piano.

"I can’t even explain it to you but I put my hands in a position and I played like three chords. Three," she says. "That was the max, three chords. And it ended up being a little church song that I knew, and I was kind of singing it humming it and all of a sudden I hear my mother going, 'She’s playing, she's playing!'"

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Credit Courtesy Cherrie Cottner
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Cherrie Cottner.

And Cottner is still playing, singing and also writing plays--not only for Christian conferences and youth rallies, but for community events, including performances at the Wichita Black Arts Festival and Riverfest. Her play, Matters of the Heart, celebrates mother-and-daughter relationships, sisterhood and friendships.

"It’s about the power of memories, the power of wisdom from mothers and the life lessons that we’ve learned," she says.

Her own mother, Sarah Dennis, died of Alzheimer's just before Cottner finished writing the play. "Mulla," as she was affectionately called, gave all nine of her children special attention.

"She made it her life’s work to pour into us what we need to be so that we could be strong, healthy men and women," Cottner says. "That’s for my five sisters and my three brothers, all of us. Each and every one of us had our own special relationship with her."

Cottner was commissioned to write the play by a group called Women Without Mothers. She says she developed the idea by interviewing women in the community whose mothers had passed away.

"I came up with the idea, 'I’ve got to get these women in a room together.' You know how we do as sisters. We talk, you know, and we share things, and so the concept was based on sharing and sisterhood," she says. "And I wanted to make it more intimate by having sisters express some of their innermost feelings and issues regarding their relationship with their mother and how they were coping and dealing with things now that their mother was gone."

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Credit Courtesy Cherrie Cottner
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Carmelita Brooks performs as Bella, a woman who has shut herself off from her friends after the death of her mother, in the play "Matters of the Heart."

One of the actors in the play is Carmelita Brooks. She plays Bella, who won’t answer calls and has shut herself off from friends after her mother dies. In the show, she finally meets up with girlfriends who have come back to the old neighborhood for a reunion at a restaurant owned by Queenie, a childhood friend.

Cottner calls Brooks "wonderful."

"I just called and asked her (to be in the play)," Cottner says. "I thought it was a fit for her because her character actually tells my story regarding my relationship with my mother and the circumstances surrounding her passing away and the grieving process. And I thought Carmelita was a great fit for that. I thought she could connect to that character because she also experienced the death of a parent and lost them to Alzheimer’s."

And as for people who may shy away from a play dealing with grief, Cottner says she worked to pull the show together in a way that wasn't too heavy.

"The play is sprinkled with so much humor, so much laughter, great music that will inspire," she says.

Cottner says the song "Life, Love and Legacy" is about her mother's spirit living within her.

"It gives testament to the fact that what a mother does to encourage and shape and mold her children, it's so unique. It's awesome," Cottner says. "So I felt compelled, I still feel compelled to this day, to honor her by her legacy, her life and her love, and all of that’s in me."

Cottner says she hopes another song, "Sisters You Rock!" leaves audience members feeling empowered.

"I wanted to leave something, and I know this song does it so that every person that witnessed this play would be empowered to remember they need somebody, and there are many times they are the person that somebody else needs," she says. "So it’s a song of empowerment for women."

The cast will perform as part of a soul food dinner theatre that will feature some homemade recipes from Mulla--Cottner's mom. She says mothers are meant to be cherished.

"As we grow, as we get older and our schedules become more hectic and the other things of life are pulling us in other directions, don’t forget to work on and to nurture your relationship with your mother while you have the opportunity," she says.

Matters of the Heart is showing at 4 p.m. Saturday, April 30, at Venue 3130.

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Carla Eckels is assistant news director and the host of Soulsations. Follow her on Twitter @Eckels.

To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.