Reviewed by David Walters
What time is it? IT’S NATION TIME!
All of these aliases, flowing one after the other, illustrate the evolvement and mastery of reinvention of one of the lions of cultural thought in the 20th century. Moving from beatnik, to black nationalist, to Marxist during the course of his life, he helped to define and challenge the definition of what it means to be black in this country, fostered the conversation of who we want to be as a nation and gave us all a slap up side the head of what we want to stand for as a people.
In this fictional encounter Looking for Leroy, by Larry Muhammad, puts the historical figure of Amiri Baraka together with a young playwright intern, who in seeking understanding of Baraka’s personal evolution, challenges this poet, playwright, teacher, critic, music producer, theater director, theater producer, writer, activist as he is in the process of writing what would be his last play, Most Dangerous Man in America, a play about the life of W.E.B. Du Bois, currently four hours long and in need of cutting.
Set in his home office, Baraka (played with great strength by Kim Sullivan) enlists the help of Taj (played by Tyler Fauntleroy, wonderfully able to match Mr. Sullivan’s strength), who has been influenced as he’s grown up by the work of Baraka and considers him an idol and touchstone of what he should be as a person and an artist. Over the course of five scenes as they work on the Du Bois play, both men challenge each other as they struggle to define self, what they stand for and how they can and should contribute to society at large.
With the directive, “Think five times before you speak,” in the course of the play the two of them cover a life time of artistic and subversive thought, what it means to be sufficiently black, what is a play, Shakespeare, revolutionary theater, Antonin Artaud, how to define self, Woodie King Jr. and the New Federal Theatre, what is your voice, pacing and texture in writing, criticism as class warfare, color blind casting, as well as the history of a black theatre in this country, what it was, what it is and what it should be.
Sitting in the audience for Looking for Leroy felt like I was on a bullet train. Looking out the window there was all this amazing scenery flashing by. My minds eye would quickly grasp one image, and it would immediately zip out of view and another one immediately came flying in to take its place, and it in turn was quickly gone, replaced by another, over and over again. This is a play chock full of a life examined and lived to the fullest. It is a history lesson in black theater, a portrait of one of this countries great contributors, a realigning of our moral and ethical compasses.
What time is it? IT’S LOOKING FOR LEROY TIME!
Running time: Approximately 75 minutes with no intermission.
Looking for Leroy presented by the New Federal Theatre at Castillo Theatre, 543 West 42nd Street and runs through March 31st. Tickets and information: NewFederalTheatre