Saturday, May 2, 2015

Forever **

Dael Orlandersmith is a poet, playwright and actress with a long association with New York Theatre Workshop where this autobiographical solo piece is now in previews. In it she describes the painful process of replacing her terrible biological family, in particular her cruel alcoholic mother, with a chosen family of the artists who inspired her, including Richard Wright and Jim Morrison, who are laid to rest in Paris’s Pere Lachaise Cemetery. The play opens with a long scene describing her visit there (too long for me apparently as I nodded off for about ten minutes). She recalls scenes from her early years in Harlem. Fortunately I awoke in time to hear her absolutely harrowing story of being raped by an intruder in the middle of the night when she was 14. A bit of levity is introduced by her telling of a crush on a handsome Irish cop who was kind to her and her fantasy of running off to Ireland with him. Even her rape could not alter her mother’s inability to give her the attention she deserved. She is unsparing in describing her own understandably cruel behavior toward her monstrous mother. A little rage goes a long way and, for me at least, hers went too far. We eventually return to the cemetery in Paris where she provides a not too convincing sign of making peace with her late mother’s memory. Takeshi Kata’s simple set has a raised platform with a table with a phonograph and two chairs; the surrounding walls have panels covered with family photographs. The theater is lined with similar panels on which the audience is invited to post messages about people influential in their lives who have passed on. Mary Louise Geiger’s lighting design is very effective. Neel Keller directed. I thought that Ms. Orlandersmith’s impressive performance exceeded her accomplishment as playwright. Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission.

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