By Nishka Jain

AWAKE is a series of monologues and short scenes about the most relevant issues of our time. Writer director K. Lorrel Manning, has put together a stellar cast giving voice to issues like homophobia, racism, immigration, white supremacy and more. Mr. Manning keeps his characters relatable, they could be people in any walk of life. During the 9 vignettes we take a walk through relationships between people, and how they deal with their personal conflicts about social issues.

Michael Giese and Madeleine Mfuru in AWAKE at The Barrow Group, 2019. Photo by Edward T. Morris

Anyone can get in the line of fire, it could be a simple conversation about a birthday present that turns into an argument between Melanie (Madeleine Mfuru) and Matt (Michael Giese). This, was one of my favorite scenes because it tackled the issue from both perspectives. A black woman and a white man connected through love and divided through race. My favorite line was when Matt says, he will correct his family members if he hears them saying anything offensive about Mel, as long as she does the same for him, and shares how he feels about being labelled as “WHITE”. The issue of stereotyping is very real for everyone regardless of what color there skin is, and that gets swept under the rug some times in real life.

Mr. Manning is not giving any solutions he is just showcasing life and how these issues that otherwise seem like big words; impact our day to day lives. AWAKE happens on a date, at a film study group, in a cafe, in an award ceremony, in a car, in a bedroom and that is what touched my heart the most. The settings of the scenes made them real, common people tackling issues and finding their own ways to deal with it, maybe that is the larger solution the world needs. Maybe we all need to really listen to each other. Maybe we are allowed to have opinions as long as we can have empathy and compassion. Maybe love is all that is needed. That is whatI came away with as an audience member.

The scene that broke my heart was the one with Jennifer (Ana Roshelle Diaz) and Max (Luka Kain )two teenage kids who have to flee their home, or live in fear of being rounded up and sent to a camp. Ana Roshelle Diaz and Luka Kain are astonishing in their portrayal of Jennifer and Max.

Mr. Manning did a wonderful job with the cast. Each cast member brings nuances to their character that is pivotal in forwarding the story. May it be Aaleyah’s (Nandita Chandra) victorious award speech, filled with love and connection for the community or Cynthia’s (Sandra Parris) disturbing story of losing a friend over the race issue, they all touch your heart and leave you asking for more.  I do wish instead of hearing the monologues I could see them as scenes. It would be great to see Aaleyah and Zohel having an argument in their donut shop or Cynthia and Megan having their troubling encounter in front of us.

Nandita Chandra in AWAKE at The Barrow Group, 2019. Photo by Edward T. Morris 

The set for AWAKE deserves special mention. It was simple but effective. My favorite part was the montage of chairs and tables at the top of the show which is then used for the whole play. It was like walking in and seeing a visual artist’s work. Chika Shimizu was successful in creating a wonderful set that at times looks like modern art, but in reality is a simple design that is handled by actors with ease for scene changes. He also added a backdrop that was simple but thoughtful and inviting and added character to every scene.

At 2 hour 15 minutes AWAKE does feel a bit long, maybe because we are not following any one story, or maybe the stories are not inter-related. Perhaps a shorter version with fewer vignettes would be more effective.

AWAKE –Written and Directed by K. Lorrel Manning

WITH: Vinny Baierlein, Nandita Chandra, Ana Roshelle Diaz, Michael Giese, Luka Kain, Garen McRoberts, Madeleine Mfuru, Sandra Parris, Jose Eduardo Ramos, Eddie K. Robinson, Anna Russell, Julia Ryan, Trey Santiago-Hudson, and Nelly Saviñon.

The creative team for AWAKE includes Chika Shimizu(sets), Everett Clark(costumes), Daisy Long(lighting), Matt Otto(sound), Addison Heeren(props), ChristineCirker(dramaturg, additional direction)and Stephanie Clark(production stage manager)

Performances of AWAKE will take place January 12 –February 8 at The Barrow Group, 312 West 36th Street in Manhattan. Critics are welcome as of January 17 for an opening on Monday, January 21. Tickets, priced at $25–$60, can be purchased HERE or by calling 866-811-4111.