Monday, 8 February 2010

THEATRE REVIEW: For Black Boys

YOUNG, GIFTED & BLACK: Actors in a scene from For Black Boys

For Black Boys Who Have Considered Homicide When The Streets Were Too Much (Sankofa Arts & Facilitation)

Director: fabian thomas

Cast: Andre Morris, Rayon McLean, Damian Shaw, Adrian Wanliss, Darion Palmer and Brian Johnson

Venue: Dennis Scott Studio Theatre, Edna Manley College, Kingston


Tyrone’s Verdict: B+


That the recently staged theatrical production of For Black Boys is powerful, gripping and unrelenting is testimony to director fabian thomas’ passion, dexterity and commitment when it comes to treating local audiences to soul-stirring, provocative and innovative theatrical gems that equally stake their claim as works of “transformational art.”


Though on occasion, the material and wordplay, based on Keith Antar Mason’s groundbreaking script, feels repetitive and emotionally strained, there’s no denying that the on-stage imagery is captivating and the performances endlessly revealing. The gorgeous lighting, exquisitely sparse set design and apt music are wondrous additions to the experimental ambience created, fitting remarkably well with the intimacy of the Dennis Scott Studio Theatre.


The six attractive young players who comprise the all-male cast seem well aware that the material is demanding, and they largely respond to the challenge with impressive vigour and relish, raw masculinity, conviction and a sense of ego-driven assuredness, under thomas’ practical and hands-on, sometimes sublime direction.


DARK DEPTHS: Brian Johnson bares his soul


Blending storytelling with music and movement, For Black Boys features a series of appealing monologues and anecdotes essentially about what it means to be Black and male in a frequently cruel and unforgiving society. Evidently taking cues from Ntozake Shange, who blew away audiences and critics with the seminal For Colored Girls, playwright/performance artist Mason forcefully delves in to the ‘Black boy’ experience, exposing the hardships and contradictions intrinsic to the Black male experience.


From racism, prejudice and crime to education, relationships, sex and sexuality, the production seems to leave no stone unturned, which lends a feeling of thoroughness but also runs the risk of coming across as tedious and wearisome. But there’s nothing to complain about considerably as viewers are provided with a relatable package, featuring young Black men as caring sons, spurned lovers, upstanding citizens, thugs, and charming princes, all in the spirit of brotherhood.


And the talented troupe of actors, (for the first half) each attired in black jeans and a black top with a letter from the word N-I-G-G-A, make the production worth watching. They sweat, they shout, they sing, they cry and they laugh, blending their rich, deep baritones on their emotional journey through fear, confidence, vulnerability, bravado, strength, aggression, loneliness, joy and ultimately self-discovery.


Andre Morris (who delivers a moving monologue about a young man falling in love with the music of Nina Simone) is a strong standout. His potential and aptitude as an actor has never been clearer. Another gifted rising star, Rayon MacLean, gives an engaging but inconsistent performance, as do Adrian Wanliss (offers some tantalizing dance moves), Damian Shaw and Darion Palmer (gives a powerful monologue about a young nigga-turned-man named Mozambique). On the other hand, Brian Johnson steals the show. His incredible talent, flair and knack for inhabiting juicy dramatic parts are on full display in several solo pieces, particularly his compelling Ernest monologue.


For Black Boys is an enjoyable and high-calibre, though unconventional, piece of theatre that pulls in viewers with its unremitting meditation on the many facets of the Black male experience. Well crafted and satisfactorily executed, it’s easily one of the most properly rendered productions so far this year.



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