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Justin Ellington

The Rolling Stone

July 31, 2019

It is not until the second act of British playwright Chris Urch’s "The Rolling Stone" that the play catches fire but from then on the drama is explosive, compelling and very disturbing. Once the play gets past the introductory exposition that sets up the plot, the production by Saheem Ali (Donja R. Love’s "Sugar in Our Wounds" and "Fireflies," and Christopher Chen’s "Passage") is taut, tense and involving. [more]

Proof of Love

May 24, 2019

Never really losing her cool, Pressley always commands the stage even though scenic designer Alexis Distler has made it difficult by creating a huge private room, beautiful in its understated way in blues and beiges, but difficult for one person to fill the space. Yes, Maurice is presumed to be in his hospital bed on stage right, and Lashonda is on the smartphone, but Pressley must negotiate the entire stage herself. Director Jade King Carroll has found reasons for her to move around from chair to sofa to a chair on the other side of the room, but has not helped much in making the play build an arc. The effective lighting by Mary Louise Geiger subtly shifts from afternoon to evening light without our realizing how much time has passed. [more]

Fireflies

October 28, 2018

Although Donja R. Love describes his new play "Fireflies," his second world premiere in New York in 2018, as a “surrealistic voyage through Queer love during pivotal moments in Black History,” this riveting play is about a great deal more than that: racism, faith, homophobia, domestic abuse, women’s roles, alcohol addiction, infidelity, women’s right to choose, and sexuality. As sharply directed by Saheem Ali, the problem is that until the very end it is difficult to know where the play is going and what its real message is. [more]

The House That Will Not Stand

August 7, 2018

Gardley makes use of a little known piece of American history: while Louisiana was under Spanish and later French rule, it had a three-tiered racial system. Aside from white settlers and black slaves, there was a third class: free women of color (mostly Creoles) could enter into a relationship with white men as common-law wives. Their children could inherit part of their estates. Some of these so-called “colored” women became extremely rich. This system was called plaçage and such women were known as placeés. The lighter the woman’s skin color the higher her social caste. However, when Louisiana was sold to the new United States in 1803, this system was frowned upon and eventually went out of style around 1813 due to legal challenges. [more]

He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box

February 6, 2018

Whereas Kennedy became famous with plays that use myth, history, surrealism and Theater of the Absurd to tell their stories, this play tells a realistic tale in poetic form, its very brevity belying its depth of feeling. The play incorporates the styles of romantic drama, Elizabethan tragedy, old-fashioned operetta, a murder mystery, and recent history of the not so distant past. Events in the play were suggested by Kennedy’s mother and her own visits to her grandparents in the Jim Crow South. [more]

Until the Flood

January 19, 2018

Ms. Orlandersmith skillfully organizes the material into short monologues that are revelatory, insightful and often tinged with humor.  Visually striking with her animated facial features and flowing dreadlocks, Orlandersmith subtly yet forcefully offers a series of rich characterizations.  Varying her vocal inflections and altering her physiognomy she conveys the essence of each individual.  It’s a riveting performance of range and depth. [more]

Syncing Ink

October 11, 2017

Mr. Njikam offers a witty take on the classic mythology of a hero’s episodic journey with a lively African-American slant. There are a lot of high school and college scenes with wise teachers referring to James Baldwin and W.E.B. Du Bois, combative students, a dying father and an imperious mother. Rhyming battles, love and enlightenment occur along the way. The narrative is so eventful and spread out that it can be difficult taking it all in and its overall impact is diluted. [more]

Pipeline

July 30, 2017

From Dominique Morisseau, the author of the critically acclaimed Skeleton Crew, Detroit ’67 and Sunset Baby, comes another powerfully provocative and riveting, but overwrought, play which investigates black rage, racial stereotyping, and parental mistakes. Just try to take your eyes off the high octane production by Lileana Blain-Cruz, which has been brilliantly cast with its six actors, all but Karen Pittman (the Pulitzer Prize-winning Disgraced) making their Lincoln Center Theater debuts. Morisseau may not have all the answers but she certainly looks at the questions from all angles. The play’s title is a reference to the metaphor for “the school to prison pipeline” that describes the blighted lives of so many ghetto youths who fail before they finish their education and was the topic of Anna Deavere Smith’s "Notes from the Field" seen Off Broadway last fall. [more]