By Donna Herman
I go so you know
My friends and family know that I will cry at the drop of a hat. I can’t watch anything with hurt animals or children. Forget television commercials around Christmas – I’m a mess. Especially if there are servicemen or servicewomen returning home as a surprise. Instant waterworks. Which is why I was perplexed by my lack of emotional response to Azure D. Osborne-Lee’s “Mirrors” presented by Parity Productions at Next Door @NYTW.
It’s not that the plot is bloodless or cerebral. “Mirrors” is set in 1960 Mississippi and is the story of two African American women Bird Wilson (Suzanne Darrell) and Belle Pierson (Kayland Jordan), who love each other and try to live together. The tale is told through flashbacks as Alma Jean Pierson (Ashley Noel Jones), Belle’s daughter, learns the truth about the past after her mother dies unexpectedly at the beginning of the play. As you can imagine, that scenario in 1960, let alone Mississippi in 1960, was not going to be easy and is rife with emotional possibility.
The problem lies with the set-up of the relationship between the two women as it’s revealed in flashbacks. Birdy is an overall-wearing metalworker who doesn’t like to go out. She believes the people in town and church are judging her and mean her no good and she likes to steer clear of interacting with them. We only meet Belle as a ghost, but our impression is that she is a social butterfly. She craves constant attention, stimulation and adoration. She wants to dance and drink the night away and if Birdy won’t come with her, she’s not exceedingly particular who keeps her company.
As an audience member, the difficulty is that we never get invested in Birdy and Belle’s relationship. It’s never presented to us as a valuable or necessary bond between the two of them, so we are never emotionally invested or truly moved by their plight and the unfolding events. There are no dynamics in the structure of the piece – it’s unremittingly grim. There is a little comic relief provided by two nosy church ladies Mabel (AnJu Hyppolite) and Constance (Natalie Jacobs) who are outrageously catty. The couple of attempts at humor written in by Osborne-Lee for the main characters fall flat.
It’s unfortunate for the fine cast that has been assembled that they didn’t get a chance to strut their stuff in a better piece with a lighter touch at the helm. Suzanne Darrell as Birdy especially deserves a mention for her nuanced portrayal of the wounded woman. Her performance was dynamic, and she clearly knows that only someone who has experienced great joy can experience great grief.
“Mirrors” by Azure D. Osborne-Lee; Directed by Ludovica Villar-Hauser
WITH: Joyia D. Bradley (Louise Sterling); Suzanne Darrell (Bird Wilson); Anthony Goss (Ray Johnson); AnJu Hyppolite (Mabel Mosley); Natalie Jacobs (Constance Jenkins); Kayland Jordan (Belle Pierson); Ashley Noel Jones (Alma Jean Pierson).
Set Designs by Jamie Nicole Larson; Costume Designs by Sabrina Bianca Guillaume; Lighting Designs by Miriam Nilofa Crowe; Sound Designs by Twi McCallum; Historical Dramaturgy by Arminda Thomas; Fight Choreography & Intimacy Direction by Rocio Mendez; Music Direction by Ashley Noel Jones; Production Stage Manager, Kaelin Elizabeth Fuld; Stage Manager, Chiara Johnson. Performances through March 22nd at 83 East 4th Street. For tickets visit: nytw.org/show/mirrors. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes with 1 intermission.