Long time New York Theatre Workshop Usual Suspect Dael Orlandersmith returns to the Workshop with a gripping and heartfelt performance of her latest work, Forever. Under Neel Keller’s direction, Orlandersmith doesn’t hold back as she takes the audience on a journey – her journey – to find beauty even in the darkest of circumstances.
Arriving in Paris, Orlandersmith finds herself immersed in a world she has only dreamed of, but also is haunted by memories of her mother – with cruel words constantly replaying in her head. As she visits the graves of artists (her chosen family) such as Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison at the Père Lachaise Cemetery, Orlandersmith goes back in time to her childhood home in Harlem, where her mother would drink herself into a stupor and endlessly cause her pain through words and actions.
The press performance under review left audiences hanging on her every word, as Orlandersmith painted a picture of the challenging and draining relationship she had with her mother, including the arguments, the name-calling, the shame and her mother’s constant need for security and attention. Well-spoken and tuned into her emotions, Orlandersmith has a true ability to connect with a large room, making them feel every emotion and sensation that she was feeling. She didn’t sugarcoat one detail and her authenticity aided in processing each thought and feeling, and ultimately allowed Orlandersmith to rise above her past.
The lighting design by Mary Louise Geiger, was effectively done as the spotlights dimmed at the appropriate moments and brightened as our attention was called to important snapshots in time. Although the lights called our attention to photographs circling the stage, our attention was always focused on Orlandersmith whose presence was ever commanding. Her attire, a simple long black cloak, with costume design by Kaye Voyce, was easy on the eye and didn’t distract from the story. The set was also simple in nature, with scenic design by Takeshi Kata, using props such as a small desk containing books, a record player and old-fashioned vinyl records to paint the picture of how Orlandersmith grew up and what her personal influences were. A spin of a song (with sound design by Adam Phalen) or a peek into a book, helped illustrate the freedom and hope she would one day gain.
It was a true honor seeing this beautiful, strong and powerful woman find her voice in all of the pain and sorrow. Although her wounds were real, she took comfort in music, books and the arts to uplift her spirits and find a support system to call her own. Finally arriving in Paris, she was able to take it all in and accept that while her mother was family, these artists were as well – and would always be, forever. Both sorrow and joy had a space in her world and shaped her into the person she had become.
Forever (through May 31, 2015)
New York Theatre Workshop, 79 E. 4th Street, between the Bowery and Second Avenue, in Manhattan
Running time: 80 minutes without an intermission