by Holli Harms
a photograph/lovers in motion, written by Ntozake Shange and adapted and directed by her sister and playwright Ifa Bayeza now playing at the historic Theatre 80 St. Mark’s
Directing her sister’s timeless play Ms. Bayeza has the touch of sisterly love, and artistic respect, in a way that is sentimental, pretty, and thoughtful but in the end not engaging.
Set in 1970’s San Francisco. A time of color, of flash, of mobility. Sex was everywhere. Everyone reaching out and grabbing and taking and being grabbed and taken. But here the “sex” is shown without sensuality, without the implied danger, it is simply a pretty dance of the attractive body. The story revolves around Sean (Adrain Washington) a budding photographer and his three lovers, Michael (Imana Breaux) a budding dancer, Claire (Mystie Galloway) a model, and Nevada (Nya Bowman) an attorney, and how because of abuse as a child at the hands of his father he does not know how to love them.
He constantly mistreats them and yet they keep coming back for more. Near the end we understand that each of them has been mistreated in some way and so love is for everyone an intangible concept. They use sex as a way to connect but it does not connect them only separates them more. Is “love” the photographs Sean takes of the people on the streets? The photos of people abusing one another. Sean sees the truth of this and says, “Our anger is who we are.”
Each woman is there to help different parts of his life, Nevada is rich and helps Sean financially, Michael is the other artist, a dancer, and the one we suspect he loves, actually loves but his damage keeps getting in the way. Claire is the sex without question without conversation. She is possibly the easiest for him until she too wants more. Wants love.
Sean is obsessed with Alexandre Dumas the son of a French Marquis and black slave. Dumas though biracial was accepted into French society. He is still one of the most read French authors. Penning two of the world’s famous works of literature, The Three Musketeers and The Count Of Monte Cristo. Sean sees Dumas as a role model, as a man who overcame racism and proved, again and again, his importance. It is what Sean struggles with – his own self-worth, his importance. It is what all of them are struggling with. Except for Earl (Marc Deliz). Earl is Sean’s best friend who also gets the nasty brunt of Sean’s constant anger. Earl is doing all he can to help Nevada get together with Sean. Trying to convince Sean that she is the one to marry. He loves her himself but knows that she loves Sean.
The dialogue is part prose and part poetry and has a lovely richness to it. Unfortunately, it is lost to over staging, music, and dance. Take all that away and let the words and the actors connect. Let them get dirty and ugly because that’s the stuff. That’s the richness. Let the wonderful words and story Ms. Shange wrote be the focus, not the staging which is time-consuming and not at all engaging. The play runs two hours with intermission but honestly, it felt so much longer.
With: Imana Breaux, Adrain Washington, Mystie Galloway, Marc Deliz, and Nya Bowman
Adaptor/Director Ifa Bayeza, Executive Producer is Karen Brown. Associate Producer is Chandler Alcoque. Associate Producer is Cynthia Kitt. Dramaturge is Gaven Trinidad. Choreographer is Leslie Dockery. Set Designer is Chris Cumberbatch. Sound and projection design are by Technical Director Bill Toles. Lighting design is by Melody A. Beal. Costume design is by Katherine Roberson. Props manager is Karimah.
WHERE AND WHEN: February 5 to 29, 2020
Theatre 80 St. Marks, 80 St. Marks Place
Presented by Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. (www.necinc.org)
February 7 at 7:00 PM, runs through February 29 on the following schedule: Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:00 PM and Sundays at 3:00 PM (16 performances).
Tickets: $25 gen. adm., $20 seniors, students and groups of ten and more.
Box office: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/1023521, tel. 866-811-4111, Group sales: 212-580-9624.
Running time: 2 hours with intermission