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Push Party

A story exploring the relationships of friends celebrating the birth of a second child to one of the group.

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Nedra Snipes, Breezy Leigh, Brittany Davis, Claudia Logan, Clarissa Vickerie and Mikayla Lashae Bartholomew in a scene from Nia Akilah Robinson’s “Push Party” at the Theaterlab (Photo credit: Travis Emery Hackett)

Consider if you will a time in a woman’s life when a first pregnancy is the reality. It is a time of profound changes in everything about a woman’s everyday life. For many women, one of the events that is a part of that first pregnancy is a baby shower. It is a way for the mother-to-be to get support from the women in her community for the transformation in status that will be happening. It is a party celebrating the impending birth with gifts of support for the new child. The presents range from essential items, such as baby bottles, diapers, blankets, crib toys, and infant clothes, to the more elaborate, such as a carriage, baby sling, and crib. It is not typically a celebration focused on the mother, although she is an integral part of the party.

A push party is a celebration of life and family, focusing on a woman who is already a mother and is about to be again. A woman’s second or third time is not as daunting as the first time. By that time, she already has a handle on what is needed and how to provide it, so a party for a yet-to-be-born child is not as exciting, but a party for the mother is a different story.

Push Party is a story by Nia Akilah Robinson that reaches into the supportive community spirit that celebrates a woman’s status as a mother, independent of a child or children. It is a story that explores the relationships of a group of friends as they gather to celebrate the impending birth of a new child to one of their numbers, but in this case, a child that has been born but is not yet in the arms of her mother. It would be a relatively simple story if that were the only focus, but Robinson gives something much more with socio-political commentary on the conditions under which pregnant women must endure in a patriarchal society, and most especially, women of color.

Breezy Leigh and Clarrisa Vickerie in a scene from Nia Akilah Robinson’s “Push Party” at the Theaterlab (Photo credit: Travis Emery Hackett)

Under the direction of Chesray Dolpha, an ensemble of five talented women explores the interpersonal dynamics revealed in what is supposed to be a party of celebration. These women have known each other since their school days, and although their living circumstances are different, they have remained friends over the years.

Lelo is the party organizer, in a sense, the rock that keeps the group focused, although she feels that no one appreciates what she does. Breezy Leigh solidly portrays her. Shadae is the more radical of the group. Claudia Logan effectively presents her as a sassy, progressive-minded, socially committed woman who tends to go off on political rants. Perfect, considered the most “put-together” of the group, is effectively characterized by Nedra Snipes. The final component of the core group is Princess, who is consistently late for meetings and gatherings and is funny but sensitive to being teased. Clarissa Vickerie perfectly embodies the character.

The last woman in this group is Lovely. The party is for her and was intended to be staged before her baby was born, but her daughter was two months premature and is still in the hospital. Mikayla LaShae Bartholomew solidly captures the emotional nuances of a new mother trying to balance the upbeat goal of the party with the darkness she feels in not being able to hold her baby.

Mikayla Lashae Bartholomew and Claudia Logan in a scene from Nia Akilah Robinson’s “Push Party” at the Theaterlab (Photo credit: Travis Emery Hackett)

Another character enters late in the story: a young homeless woman sitting near the community center door. Her presence triggers conversations among the women regarding housing issues and social support for people of color in various communities in New York City, focusing on their current location. Brittany Davis does a superb job inhabiting the character who calls herself Harlem. This character becomes a touchstone for conversations that reveal how each of the women views the circumstances that lead to people, such as Harlem, being homeless, or, as Shadae points out in an earlier conversation with Princess, about candy from a pinata:

Shady B: Un-housed. Homeless ain’t it. And you know that.

Princess: Unhoused. [Here we go]

Shady B: You should’ve gotten them something to eat. Or given money.

The story opens with Lelo putting the final decorating touches on the community room of her apartment building in Harlem. As Shadae, Lovely, and Perfect enter and exchange greetings, the conversation turns to their missing member, Princess. It turns out that she is always late for just about everything, and usually with various excuses. They talk about some of the excuses Princess comes up with, and in that conversation, they reveal different aspects of themselves and their sense of the world in which they live.

Clarissa Vickerie, Claudia Logan and Mikayla Lashae Bartholomew in a scene from Nia Akilah Robinson’s “Push Party” at the Theaterlab (Photo credit: Travis Emery Hackett)

This ensemble is so well-tuned to each other that watching them is like eavesdropping on a group of old friends chatting about a whole range of things, from makeup to feminine medical issues to views on the social order. For a white man watching this group of black women interacting, it felt as if I was out of place to be listening. Seeing the reactions of the Black women in the audience, a group more attuned to the action, showed how true the production is to life.

The conversations are funny, serious, heartfelt, and intense with, at times, a discordant edge, and therein lies a problem. While the play does an excellent job setting up situations that reveal more significant social issues, the commentary on those issues comes across as too intense within the context of a social gathering. The circumstances of these commentaries are important for people to be aware of, but it may be more effective if the presentations were more nuanced. It may be a case of “preaching to the choir” for some audiences, and the dynamics of the actions within the context of the party may be alien to some audiences. Still, in the end, the show delivers a solid theatrical experience.

The venue is immersive, with the audience sitting on two sides of the performance space. This arrangement adds to the intimacy of the story being told. Yi-Hsuan (Ant) Ma’s sets capably transform the theater space into a community room of an apartment building. Patricia Marjorie’s costume design effectively defines the characters’ personalities. Jacqueline Brockel’s prop design works well in support of the party’s nature. The lighting design by Xotchil Musser and the sound design by Jordana Abrenica complement each other in establishing the setting.

Push Party (through June 23, 2024)

The Hearth

Theaterlab, 357 W 36th St., 3rd floor, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/1199997

Running time: 100 minutes without an intermission

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About Scotty Bennett (85 Articles)
Scotty Bennett is a retired businessman who has worn many hats in his life, the latest of which is theater critic. For the last twelve years he has been a theater critic and is currently the treasurer of the American Theatre Critics Association and a member of the International Association of Theatre Critics. He has been in and around the entertainment business for most of his life. He has been an actor, director, and stage hand. He has done lighting, sound design, and set building. He was a radio disk jockey and, while in college ran a television studio and he even knows how to run a 35mm arc lamp projector.

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