Review: Black n Blue Boys / Broken Men (Goodman Theatre and Berkeley Repertory Theatre)

| October 12, 2012
Dael Orlandersmith performs her one-woman piece "Black n Blue Boys / Broken Men", directed by Chay Yew, and produced by Goodman Theatre and Berkeley Repertory Theatre. (photo credit: Kevin Berne)        
       
Black n Blue Boys
             Broken Men
 

Written by Dael Orlandersmith
Directed by Chay Yew  
at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map)
thru Oct 28  |  tickets: $12-$42   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
        Read entire review
     


     
       

A tour-de-force performance that takes hold and doesn’t let go

     

Dael Orlandersmith performs her one-woman show "Black n Blue Boys / Broken Men", directed by Chay Yew, produced by Goodman Theatre and Berkeley Repertory Theatre. (photo credit: Kevin Berne)

    
Goodman Theatre and Berkeley Repertory Theatre present
    
Black n Blue Boys / Broken Men

Review by Clint May 

Ms. Dael Orlandersmith—poet, playwright, and actor—is the kind of person to whom you could imagine telling anything. A former social worker, it’s difficult to imagine anything she hasn’t heard, any sin she couldn’t forgive. In Black n Blue Boys, she recreates five male personas with devastating pasts and personal inclinations that gives the production its second title, Broken Men. Alone on the stage with only a chair, she bares stories of bracing revelation that caused even this cosmopolitan critic to squirm in his seat. I doubt I was the only one. These are not true stories, but they are created from threads of truth. Citing several primary sources beyond her own firsthand experience (i.e. Victims No Longer by Mike Lew), Black n Blue Boys travels a geographic and ethnic spectrum of boys and men all linked by a common experience of abuse, neglect, and dreams.

Dael Orlandersmith performs her one-woman show "Black n Blue Boys / Broken Men", directed by Chay Yew, produced by Goodman Theatre and Berkeley Repertory Theatre. (photo credit: Kevin Berne)This all turns on Orlandersmith’s solo performance, and it’s a wonder to behold. She disappears so completely into these boys, men, mothers, etc. that it’s not hard to forget you’re looking at an African American woman just over 50 years old. Her voice, accents and physical phrasing drift seamlessly into the tales of a downtrodden social worker or a 12 y.o. runaway hustler or a schizophrenic mother. Being from New York herself, it’s not surprising this is where all the stories take place (excluding one that begins in Ireland). They could be anywhere. There’s a poetic brutality to each tale, and we revisit each of them a few times in the 80 minute tour of their lives. Checking in, it would seem, to see if they’ve been able to escape their past without recreating it. That she is a woman is disarming at first, but she commands the stage so surely that it quickly evaporates as a consideration at all except to make a point about the genderless nature of the stories.

Challenging as it is (I haven’t felt this uncomfortable since watching “Precious”), this is the kind of audacious theatre that mesmerizes even as it often repulses. No wreathe of judgment is lain by Orlandersmith on the roadmarkers of these lives. She presents the portraits with honesty and clarity and lets the results land in psyches as they will. One character in particular—and you’ll know it when you hear it—will challenge you to the very core. It may even make you angry to hear what could be construed as sympathy for a monster. Despite that, these are the stories that must be heard if we are ever to make sense of the vicious cycles on display. Only one note rings slightly twee in the face of such darkness. It’s the only time Orlandersmith becomes herself at show’s end. She attempts to sum up the preceding with a somewhat muddled monologue that tries to cast a hopeful light onto the miasma. This was an unnecessary addition, and as the eyes accustomed to the dark wince when exposed to sudden light, it hurts the show a little to adjust so rapidly. The bruised boys and broken men don’t need an optimistic denouement after her powerhouse performance. Their lives fleetingly become hers and by extension, ours. Nothing else is needed but that.

  
Rating: ★★★½
  
   

Black n Blue Boys / Broken Men continues through October 28th at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map), with performances Wednesdays and Thursdays 7:30pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 2 and 8pm, Sundays 2 and 7:30pm.  Tickets are $12-$42, and are available by phone (312-443-3800) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at GoodmanTheatre.org(Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission)

Dael Orlandersmith performs her one-woman show "Black n Blue Boys / Broken Men", directed by Chay Yew, produced by Goodman Theatre and Berkeley Repertory Theatre. (photo credit: Kevin Berne)

Photos by Kevin Berne


     

artists

cast

Dael Orlandersmith

behind the scenes

Dael Orlandersmith (Playwright), Chay Yew (Director), Daniel Ostling (Set Design), Anita Yavich (Costume Design) Ben Stanton (Lighting Design), Mikhail Fiksel (Sound Design), Tanya Palmer (Dramaturg), Kimberly Osgood (Production Stage Manager), Kevin Berne (photos)

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Category: 2012 Reviews, Clint May, Goodman Theatre, Monologue, Owen Theatre (Goodman)

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