By Elizabeth Foster
Several serious issues are explored in this world premiere. We are kept on the edge for the entire hour and forty-minute duration of the play. As it ends, the audience members stop holding their breath and cannot help but wonder what happens next, as only questions are posed.
Explored are human suffering, actions associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), religion, race, mental illness, and what defines a family unit. The two men seek peace through religion and its symbols, medication, violence, and alcohol. It is an intense performance. It is raw, intimate, and inescapable.
The Primitive Grace Theatre Ensemble has designed a work true to its mission. They strive to challenge audience and artists alike to examine their assumptions about life. Their aim is to startle, awaken, and inspire a radical shift in consciousness.
The audience and actors reach a level of involvement and critical thinking that other plays rarely achieve. No one is bored during this tumultuous ride. You may beg it to end but it won’t before another twist confronts you. Can this really happen? Yes. Is this representative of a segment of our society? What can we do?
Themes includes an exploration of the culturally diverse fabric of our culture. It is not for the demure. If you have ever been to war, you may want to forgo this experience as it may push all your buttons and trigger disruptive, and perhaps buried experiences. You have been warned.
You cannot escape the tension, stress, and discourse. The current production is intimate, and you are in the room with Jim-Bo (Obi Abili) and Yolanda (Sarah Kate Jackson) when they decide what to do regarding Cornbread (Nixon Cesar), Jim-bo’s twin brother, who is also the father of one of Yolanda’s children. Cornbread is Yolanda’s ex-husband.
Set in a ghetto of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Yolanda walks in on her ex-husband who is naked, drunk, and waving a gun around screaming “I’m gonna make this sand nigga feel what the good Lord felt when they done hammered him to the cross.” Cornbread has and is suffering from his experiences during his military tour in Iraq. Cornbread has kidnapped, who he thinks is an Arab, a Spanish man and tied him to a chair in his living room. Yolanda has heard the prisoner speak in Spanish and describes the scene to Jim-Bo to cajole him into helping his brother.
Jim-Bo, also an Iraqi war veteran, does not want to get involved with Cornbread and the kidnapping, especially since his brother has not been taking his medicines and is drinking alcohol.
Getting impatient with Yolanda, Jim-Bo explodes “Cornbread goes ahead and hammers that Spanish man to his living room floor ‘fore I get there, and then I get there and the law arrives and finds me in there widdim they ain’t gonna make a distinction ‘tween one nigga and another when a non-nigga’s cruficied to a living room floor. They gonna blast our black asses away! So Cornbread can crucify, uncrucify that Spanish man to his floor, to his wall, to his damn ceiling for all I care. Gotta get myself to church! So let Cornbread hammer away!”
Yolanda tries to convince Jim-Bo to skip church and go help Cornbread. If not for his brother’s sake, than for the poor Spanish man tied to the chair. She is met with Jim-Bo’s indifference to the Spanish man’s plight “we ain’t asked em to cross over without even knowing how to speak our language. Did we? Spanish man! Too many of em here, now. Taking over some of the jobs some of our youngems’ could be good for. Summer jobs. Winter jobs too. Plus, hell, maybe he a member of one of these drug cartels, or slave traffickin’ rings.”
Next, we meet Cornbread in his living room. He is having flashbacks, is naked, sweating, and crazy eyed. Quietly he murmurs,“Couldn’t have been more than twelve if a day. One sec we showing him how to use a broom stick for a baseball bat and the next BOOM!! Done blew his self and about half dozen of us away with an IED.”
Jim-Bo tries to reason with his brother explaining he has mixed up a Spanish for an Arab man. Cornbread flies off the handle at the top of his lungs “He ain’t Spanish goddammit! He Arab! A hundred percent un-adulterated sand nigga!”
Jim-Bo tries to get Cornbread to put down the gun and take his medication. He is met by “Don’t need no medication. Medication’s the Devil’s work!”
In the final scene, Jim-Bo is nailing his brother to the cross while expressing a visually and aurally powerful scene of physical and mental torment that characterizes their distorted thinking and actions. Sounds of voices and incongruent lines of music accentuate the discordance and tension of the scene. At the last moment Jim-Bo’s delusion subsides, and he helps Cornbread sit up. He wraps Cornbread’s hand around a pistol and exits.
All three characters are masters of their respective crossroad they are at: religion, war, relationships, mental health, and human suffering.
MASTER OF THE CROSSROADS– Written and directed by Paul Calderon.
WITH: Obi Abili (Jim-Bo), Nixon Cesar (Cornbread), and Sarah Kate Jackson (Yolanda).
TRIGGER WARNING: Please note that this production features nudity, racist language and graphic violence in a very intimate setting
RunsJanuary 16 – February 9, Wednesday – Saturday at 8pm. The Bridge Theater is located at Shetler Studios, 244 West 54thStreet between 7th& 8thAves — accessible from the C, E & 1trains at 50thStreet. Tickets are $18 at BrownPaperTickets.com beginning December 7. Runtime 1 hour 40 minutes.