Saturday, November 1, 2014

brownsville song (b-side for tray) **

If good intentions and heartfelt sincerity were all it took to write a successful play, Kimber Lee (who apparently has an aversion to capital letters) would have hit the jackpot with her drama at LCT3’s Claire Tow Theater. We know before the play begins that Tray (Sheldon Best), an 18-year-old black Brooklynite just finishing high school, is dead. The play opens with a grief-filled monologue by Tray’s grandma Lena (Lizan Mitchell) advising us that Tray’s life is worth far more than the few lines the newspaper will devote to his senseless death in a street shooting. After this strong start, the play moves backward and forward in time to describe Tray and the effects of his death on his grandmother, his beloved little half-sister Devine (Taliyah Whitaker), his long-estranged stepmother Merrell (Sun Mee Chomet) and, to a lesser extent, his friend Junior (Chris Myers). Unfortunately, the play begins to lose its course and ultimately resorts to some manipulative sentimentality. A few things puzzled me. What happened to Tray’s biological mother? Was the choice of an Asian-American actor to play Merrell an indication of his stepmother’s ethnicity or just a bit of nontraditional casting? (I concluded it was the former.) Some of the plot points stretched my willingness to suspend disbelief too far. Merrell’s reappearance, first as a tutor for Tray’s college admission essay, and then as a job applicant at the Starbuck’s where he is a barista, seemed too pat. The play’s sentimental but nonetheless wrenching ending reinforces our sense of tragic, senseless loss. The production is first-rate: the cast is very good, the set by Andromache Chalfant is excellent, the costumes by Dede M. Ayite are apt, the lighting by Jijoun Chang and the sound design by Asa Wember are effective and the direction by Patricia McGregor is assured. Would that the playwright had been able to maintain the high level of the play’s opening scene. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes, no intermission.


Philip said...

You've accurately summed up the weaknesses and strengths of this play. I might re-characterize what you write by saying that it may be a play, but it's not a drama; it rather has the effect less of being the drama about a particular young man and his family than of a generalized news story that evokes anger and frustration over lives that are wasted by violence. Merrill is in fact Asian-American, a fact that makes for a little irony of one minority depreciating another when her family rejects Tray and his father, who are African-American.

Robert Sholiton said...

Thanks for your informatibe remarks.