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a Drama
by Amiri Baraka

COMPANY : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Discovery Point Studio [WEBSITE]
ID# 5529

SHOWING : June 21, 2019 - June 23, 2019



Clay rides the New York City subway and becomes the fixation of Lula, who is seemingly sexually attracted to him. Lula’s brazen attempt to seduce Clay in public is menacing. As she becomes increasingly threatening, Clay eventually snaps, no longer able to remain polite in the face of her anger, but his reaction has severe repercussions.

Director Daisean Garrett
Clay Markell Williams
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Bitter Chocolate
by playgoer
Saturday, June 29, 2019
LeRoi Jones wrote "Dutchman" in the early 1960’s, soon before changing his name to Amiri Baraka. It was a sensation at the time, but partly due to the short running time (45 minutes in the Appco Alumni production), it is rarely produced. Its incendiary views on racial politics also contribute to its limited production history.

In the Aurora black box space, Keith Kennard’s set design consists of a low rectangular platform, covered in graffiti, on which rest two park benches, two wooden cubes, and five steel poles. The poles lean at various shallow angles from the upright, and their purpose becomes clear only when the play begins. The setting is intended to be a subway car. It’s very much a make-do set design.

Hakeem Frazier’s sound design gives us subway sounds that help set the locale, and Jeremiah Davison’s subtle lighting design does a very nice job at the outset to indicate both the interior of the subway car and a view of a woman on a platform outside. As the play progresses, action is restricted to the subway car. Lighting helps shape the action.

The audience space is configured as seats surrounding a shallow thrust playing space, with four café tables up front. At times, the audience is addressed as if we’re also travelers in the subway car. For the most part, though, this is a two-person show. A third person, a young black man (Johnathan T. Anderson) is napping on a subway bench before the show starts, enters and exits another time to comic effect, then enters again at the ominous end of the show.

The main action consists of white Lula (Jordyn Cavros) attempting to seduce black Clay (Markell Williams), who is on his way to a friend’s party, dressed in a three-piece suit. She seems to know a lot about him, but punctuates her informed guesses with the warning that she lies a lot. He’s intrigued, and it seems they may be headed to a hook-up, but then things take a nasty turn. Lula has been monopolizing the conversation, but when she goes too far in her mocking of Clay, he erupts in anger and takes control. It ends badly for him.

Director Daisean Garrett has blocked the show with a nice variety of movement, and he has gotten spirited performances out of his actors. Ms. Cavros portrays the type of over-the-top personality that can be fascinating upon an initial interaction, but that quickly wears thin; so much so that at the performance I attended one person started clapping when she was slapped. Mr. Williams is an actor with quicksilver emotions playing over his face, going through a true journey as Clay, from quiet observer to incensed black man. Despite apparent line bobbles on opening night, the power of the play comes through clearly.

This Aurora AppCo Alumni production is a lot lighter on alumni contributions than previous shows. Of the people whose biographies appear in the program, only Mr. Garrett is a former member of the Aurora apprentice company. Still, it’s laudable that a rarely-performed modern American classic is being brought to the stage. It’s a difficult play, but one that deserves to be seen from time to time, particularly since racial harmony is no more a feature of our times than it was in the 1960’s. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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