Can a 27-year-old Black gay professional journalist and a 21-year-old Blatino bicycle messenger with an out of wedlock son find love and happiness together in Brooklyn? That is the crux of author James Earl Hardy’s compelling class-conscious drama B-Boy Blues The Play, where all of its characters are confident of their varied sexuality.
Mr. Hardy, an accomplished entertainment reporter, published his novel, B-Boy Blues: A Seriously Sexy, Fiercely Funny, Black-on-Black Love Story, in 1994. It led to five sequels, a short story and an upcoming film version. Hardy’s stage adaptation premiered at New York City’s 2013 Downtown Urban Arts Festival (DUAF), which is also presenting this production.
B-Boy is short for “banjee boy” which is slang for a masculine-acting gay urban Black or Latin young man with swagger. It’s been traced to 1980’s vogue balls and the term was used in the 1990 documentary film, Paris Is Burning.
Following a tense encounter between two gay Black men who’ve just been to a Halle Berry movie and a tough younger group of bisexual basketball-playing Black men, there’s a meet cute at a bus stop between two of them. “Yeah, you was on that CNN special about hip-hop last week,” says 21-year-old Raheim to 27-year-old Mitchell. Through muscular dialogue delivered during a series of pointed short scenes, Hardy charts the couple’s lust, romance and conflicts with positivity and streetwise authenticity. A house party shooting, and its aftermath are starkly and profoundly depicted. Does love win out?
The soulful, youthful and expressive Kené Chelo Ortiz’s explosive performance conveys Raheim’s sensitivity and volatility. As Mitchell, Damone Williams offers an appealing characterization grounded in sincerity of emotion. The winning teamwork of Mr. Ortiz and Mr. Williams is a key component of the show’s success.
Vivacious Tieisha Thomas makes a delightful impression as Mitchell’s bawdy co-worker. As the duo’s friends, the magnetic ensemble of Ashton Harris, Jermaine Montell, Reginald L. Barnes and Stephfon Guidry attack their roles with relish, as does Bry’Nt playing a pivotal outsider. They all wear stylish street clothes reflective of the play’s milieu.
While attaining striking performances from the cast, director Christopher Burris’ physical staging is of crafted simplicity with clean entrances, exits and precise positioning of the actors. The stage is bare most of the time, minimal furnishings are occasionally brought on and basic images indicating differing locales are projected on the backwall. Composer Germono Toussaint’s original score is suitably edgy, and his sound design renders the recorded music selections with flair. The lighting design by Bill Toles and Zach Dulny complements a variety of tones and locations.
B-Boy Blues The Play is performed in repertory twice a week as part of Downtown Urban Arts Festival’s five-week annual multi-disciplinary arts event. Founded in 2002, DUAF’s mission is “to build a repertoire of new American theatre that echoes the true spirit of urban life and speaks to a whole new generation whose lives defy categorizing along conventional lines.” B-Boy Blues The Play potently achieves that goal.
B-Boy Blues The Play (through June 25, 2022)
Downtown Urban Arts Festival
Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.duafnyc.com
Running time: 80 minutes without an intermission