By David Walters
“It started as a poem, and just kept evolving.”
Karl O’Brian Williams has been spending a good portion of his adult life exploring who he is in his poem/play The Black That I Am. Converted for the stage in a sixth rendition now playing at HERE, it is a staged poem on Blackness presented by six performers encompassing movement, song, visuals, dramatic and comic scenes, dance, music, and the spoken word. It is teaming with meaning, exploring identity in the past and present, seeking a road forward. It will lead you to more questions than answers, but everyone’s answers are individual. Those questions presented in this evening, if taken into account, will bring you closer to finding your own truth.
The talented ensemble’s backgrounds stem from Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States and there is a sense that these are not just the author’s explorations in the script they are performing, but their own ongoing search that they get to explore as well.
Beginning with national pledges and anthems of Jamaica, UK, USA, The Dominican Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Black National Anthem, the ensemble begins the evening’s journey under multiple flags of belonging and goes on to explore where individual belonging is and isn’t in this ever-evolving world.
Throughout the piece, I seriously appreciated the honesty and mirror-searching that Mr. Williams brought to the stage as identity and belonging are absolutely universal themes that are brandished as bullhorns and often cherished as personal history and identity.
There is no single plot or story that runs through this piece. It is held tightly together instead by the musings on issues surrounding Blackness, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, violence, colonialism, slavery, and belonging, asking the broader questions. who am I to myself, my family, and the world? Though Caribbean-focused, the play is not only aligned with Caribbean culture and identity but is “seeking a wider afro-centric identity.”
“And maybe I’ll learn something.
Because The Black That I Am is still writing this…”
Karl O’Brian Williams
The Black That I Am was written by Karl O’Brian Williams and directed by Will Brown
Now through Sunday, April 2 at HERE ARTS CENTER Dorothy B. Williams Theater (145 Sixth Ave, NY, NY 10013)
With scenic design by Harlan Penn, costume design by Devin (Devyn) Macke, and lighting design by Moneé Stamp. Joel Edwards is the sound designer, Jenna Arkontaky is the stage manager and Emani Simpson is the assistant stage manager. Technical direction by Joel Edwards.
Tickets are $15-30 and are now available online at braataproductions.org/tbtia or by calling 212-647-0202. Tickets may also be purchased in-person at the theater ½ hour prior to the performance.
Running Time: 75 mins
As always, this is just one person’s opinion in a world filled with them.