Review by Brittany Crowell
An abrasively white neon triangle shines blindingly above a young black woman in a long white dress standing at a wooden counter. There is incense burning on the table; a sledgehammer on the shelf beneath, hovering above a large block of whitish pink salt; a microphone to her right with a home-made wreath, and a chair to her left surrounded by tropical plants.
As the audience enters salt. at The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival, we see safety goggles on our chairs. Actress Rochelle Rose, who beautifully and carefully holds and delivers Selina Thompson’s story, looks out at the house with a warmth and curiosity that at once comforts and disarms. This is a piece where we will be addressed directly, where the audience will not be let off the hook, but asked with brevity to look at our world and ourselves more deeply.
salt. is the story of a black British woman who makes a Transatlantic journey, searching through the story of her diaspora in hopes of finding a deeper sense of identity. Feeling torn between the two parts of herself, the piece educated in white, European schools, and the part of her that was nurtured in black homes, Thompson writes an impassioned exploration of the anger and frustrations of “seeking home in places and people where [you] do not belong.”
The piece mindfully and rigorously excavates an identity forced to reconcile itself within a power structure built on suffering and massacre. “Europe pushes against me –.“ Thompson’s retaliation with salt. is brutally honest, yet maintains an amazing level of grace, as she asks us to promise to remember to see that the conditions and structures of slavery have not yet been dismantled.
As we watch the marvelous Rochelle Rose clearly and calculatedly smash and grind the block of salt onstage into smaller and smaller pieces, we are metaphorically asked to rub salt onto the wound – to see that we have not indeed healed, but in salting it, both recall and honor the pain that it has caused, and draw out the infectious structures that continue to prevent the wound from healing.
salt. is a poetic epitaph for those who have nothing concrete to grieve. It is a hymn of anger and of healing, of loss and empathy, of hope. I recommend that all attend, as you will find enlightenment, teachings, and possibly healings from Selina Thompson’s story.
salt. – by Selina Thompson; directed by Dawn Walton
WITH – Rochelle Rose
Assistant directed by Emmy Lahouel; design by Katherina Radeva; sound by Sleepdogs; lighting design by Cassie Mitchell; production managed by Natalie Wong; commissioned by Yorkshire Festival, Theatre Bristol, and MAYK; supported by National Theatre Studio. At The Public’s Under the Radar Festival: Oskar Eustis, artistic director; Mark Russell, director Under The Radar festival. publictheater.org/programs/under-the-radar/under-the-radar/. Through Jan 19. 75 minutes.