review: Dael Orlandersmith’s “Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men”—a powerful one woman show that probes the lingering wounds of abuse— at Berkeley Rep, through June 24, 2012
From the moment the formidable Dael Orlandersmith steps onto the barren floor of the Thrust Stage at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, her intensity is hypnotic. In her new solo work Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men, which had its world premiere last Wednesday evening, Orlandersmith transforms herself into five young men of varying ages and races to take us on a dark journey that probes the lasting trauma of childhood abuse. Wearing simple loose-fitting black clothing and her signature braids loose throughout the entire 100 minute performance, Orlandersmith shifts her weight, changes her accent and seems effortlessly, from someplace within, to call forth five young men of varying races, origins and ages who tell their stories. Having lived through horrific abuse—recounted in graphic detail—the common enemy these young men now face is the power of history and painful personal experience. Adulthood, especially for children from homes with recurrent abuse and violence, presents varying levels of growth and regression. Orlandersmith takes us a journey riddled with turbulent emotional shifts as acts of self-sabotage and unintentional abuse undo significant gains. As these young men question the choices they’ve made and the patterns they’ve enacted, we can’t help but applaud the strength it took for Orlandersmith to give voice to their demons and the sliver of hope residing in the dark corners of their awakening self-awareness.
Orlandersmith made an indelible impression on local audiences in 2004 with Berkeley Rep’s production of Yellowman. That play, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, explored the complex dimensions interracial prejudice through the story of a young black couple. It was commissioned and originally produced by McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, New Jersey and was the first play Orlandersmith wrote for other actors. Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men has the potential to be every bit as biting as Yellowman but it needs to be tightened and honed, much of which will happen during its road-test at Berkeley Rep. Orlandersmith pours every once of her soul into these young men, giving a raw, haunting and audacious performance.
Free 30-minute docent presentations about the show take place at 7:00 PM on the following Tuesday and Thursday evenings: June 5, June 7, June 12, June 14, June 19, and June 21, 2012. Docent talks are also held in three local communities: at the Orinda Library on Tuesday, May 29, 2012 at 7:00 PM, at the Lafayette Library on Wednesday, June 6, 2012 at 7:00 PM , and at the Moraga Library on Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at 2:00 PM.
Post-play discussions moderated by theatre professionals follow the 8:00 PM shows on Friday, June 8, 2012 and Tuesday, June 12, 2012.
Free tastings: Join Berkeley Rep for complimentary pre-performance tastings! Sample wine and other delights. New tasting events are being added all the time, so be sure to check back often!
- Friday, June 8, 2012: Urbano Cellars / 7pm
- Saturday, June 9, 2012 Dr. Kracker / 7pm
- Friday, June 15, 2012: Semifreddi’s / 7pm
Creative Team: written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith; directed by Chay Yew; designed by Daniel Ostling (sets), Anita Yavich (costumes), Ben Stanton (lights), and Mikhail Fiksel (sound)
Details: Black n Blue Boys / Broken Men runs through Sunday, June 24, 2012. The Berkeley Repertory Theatre (Thrust Stage) is located at 2025 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, CA 94704. Tickets start at $29. Additional savings are available for groups, seniors, students, and anyone under 30 years of age – meaning discounted seats can be obtained for as little as $14.50. For tickets and info: http://www.berkeleyrep.org or phone 510.647.2949