A STORY TO TELL
Writer/Actress Dael Orlandersmith has many stories to tell in her one-person show at the Goodman, but they all encompass the same theme: abuse. Specifically, involving boys and men, both the abusers and those who have been abused—physically and sexually. The fictional characters are channeled through Orlandersmith, a powerful writer who is a powerful woman with a powerful presence; her characters are so richly detailed that she obviously has a deep concern for her subject matter. Yet, even with some harrowing descriptions of the cycle of abuse, the evening lacks the profundity one would associate with this sort of material.
Except for an insignificant coda in the vein of “It doesn’t have to be like this,” the parade of fascinating and well-drawn people—from a Manchester, England hothead to a “nigga trick baby”—are presented simply, without an agenda. Audience members can take from it what they will: Some will feel assaulted by the graphic imagery; some will see themselves in one or more of her characters (and be grateful that their story is finally being told); and some may be numbed, having shut themselves down in order not to feel any pain. In the end, it is difficult to become emotionally invested in these characters because Orlandersmith isn’t a deep actress with a lot of range.
This isn’t to say that Black N Blue Boys/Broken Men is a wasted evening in the theater. Quite the contrary. Pulitzer finalist Orlandersmith’s writing is intrepid, compassionate, and poetic; she has an uncanny ability to create imagery of her character’s surroundings. While she lacks nuance as a actress (accents of her characters tend to fluctuate), she has a fierce conviction that is magnetic. The storytelling is riveting, but the structure of the show is somewhat static, even as she creates nine distinct characters. What makes the evening attention-grabbing is Chay Yew’s direction, which has Orlandersmith traveling all about the thrust stage configuration at the smaller Owen Theatre. With the aid of Ben Stanton’s gobo lighting effects (film noir-style windows and doorways) and sharp spotlight work, Yew creates a sense of time and place that is astonishing, considering that the set by Daniel Ostling is no more than a wickedly beautiful floor of weathered wooden planks.
I would have desired that the show had ended up grabbing my heart in such a way that I felt compelled to help end this cycle of abuse in our world. Whereas Orlandersmith’s contemporary Anne Deavere Smith manages to move me while highlighting her topic (such as the broken health care system), the authoritative creator of Black N Blue Boys nonetheless offers a performance piece saturated with realistic characters who each have a compelling story to tell.
photos by Kevin Berne
Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men
Owen Theatre at the Goodman
scheduled to end on October 28, 2012
for tickets, call 312.443.3800 or visit the Goodman
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