Deborah does not seem to get the irony of having hung on her dining room wall as the focal point of the room the painting “Funeral Procession” by Ellis Wilson, which depicts a series of Black women in mourning. A crack in the dining room wall seems to be widening though at first the family tries to ignore it. Although Deborah, Mark and Lauren can’t see them, three spirit women, the souls of Black women of various ages who have been shot to death, appear to be haunting their house. And when Lauren brings home her first girlfriend, Upendo Haki Supreme, a 21-year-old social justice activist who is gender fluid and disapproves of heteronormative gender roles, things really begin popping.
A tragicomedy of magnificent proportions, playwright Patricia Ione Lloyd’s professional stage debut is not only the work of a unique voice but the twists and turns in the play are always surprising. The denouement of this world premiere is absolutely shattering. Riveting throughout, the play’s message and theme of being young, female, black or gay in any combination creeps up on the viewer like one of those Jules Feiffer scripts in which everything is fine until it is not. Jo Bonney’s polished direction makes this absurdist play seem as conventional as a television sit-com until the author has lulled us into security and then the cracks begin to show more and more.
The superb cast handles their roles in a more realistic manner than usually seen in plays with Absurdist elements. For all the non sequiturs, this could be an Ionesco comedy but we immediately recognize these people, they are not exaggerated or quirky. As Deborah who has bought into the Establishment and thinks if she keeps her head down no one will notice that she is Black, De’Adre Aziza holds the play and her family together until she finally loses it in the last scene. Kadijah Raquel’s Lauren takes us on her journey of both her awakening sexuality and social conscience. She too pays a heavy price for speaking her mind.
So too by the end, Karl Green’s Mark has found his limits to how he is treated at his suburban mostly white school. As the rebel Upendo Haki Supreme born Tiffany, Ashley D. Kelley is hilarious in making her rejection of mainstream choice have a voice and a presence. Movement director Stefanie Batten Bland has worked wonders with Vernice Miller, Rachel Watson-Jih and Tamara M. Williams as the Spirit Women who wander through the play in various forms, each causing literal electric charges as they endlessly relate their tragic stories.
Designer Riccardo Hernandez’s setting which at first seems unnaturally bare proves to be exactly right for the play, making the iconic dining room the scene of much of the family interaction. The costumes by Emilio Sosa beautifully delineate the differences between the establishment characters, the questing teens and the bohemian characters. Lap Chi Chu’s lighting beautifully complements the play’s ten scenes and several locations. While Hana S. Kim’s projection design at times overwhelms the play, the sound design by Elisheba Ittoop is exactly right.
Both a theatrical surprise and a very accomplished dramatic work, Patricia Ione Lloyd’s Eve’s Song is one of the best theatrical experiences to be had in New York at this time. With a cast led by De’Adre Aziza who is well known to Public Theater audiences, director Jo Bonney, totally attuned to the author’s unique style, delivers an exquisite and provocative evening in the theater. It is always a pleasure to herald the arrival of a new and talented writer, particularly one as masterly and sophisticated as newcomer Lloyd.
Eve’s Song (through December 9, 2018)
The Public Theater
LuEsther Hall, 425 Lafayette Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-967-7555 or visit http://www.publictheater.org
Running time: one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission