Review: BLKS (Steppenwolf Theatre)

| December 22, 2017 | 0 Comments

Kelly O’Sullivan  and Celeste M. Cooper star in BLKS by Aziza Barnes at Steppenwolf Theatre            
      

  

BLKS
   
Written by Aziza Barnes
Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted (map)
thru Jan 21  |  tix: $20-$89  |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets   
     


    
  

As delightful as it is provocative

  

Leea Ayes, Celeste M. Cooper and Nora Carroll star as June, Imani and Octavia in BLKS, Steppenwolf Theatre

    
Steppenwolf Theatre presents
    
BLKS

Review by Lauren Whalen

Playwright and poet Aziza Barnes wrote BLKS as “a self-portrait of me and my best friends in our cripplingly early 20s. So, a bunch of painful absurdity…” In press materials Barnes goes on to say, “BLKS for me is emotionally rigorous and delightful because I’m constantly laughing at the person I was and am, and the jokes me and my kin tell each other.” Indeed, “emotionally rigorous and delightful” describes BLKS to a tee, even for a privileged white woman such as myself. Full of laugh-out-loud moments as well as dark humor and quiet poignancy, BLKS is a day in the life of three black women in New York City: their dreams, their loves and their constant screw-ups.

Nora Carroll stars as Octavia in BLKS by Aziza Barnes, Steppenwolf TheatreBLKS kicks off when Octavia (Nora Carroll) finds an unexpected, unwelcome surprise while looking in the bathroom mirror. Eager to avoid her dark thoughts of what may be to come, Octavia kicks her lover Ry (Danielle Davis) out of her apartment and looks to her friends for comfort. Imani (Celeste M. Cooper) is frantically working on a tribute to Eddie Murphy’s iconic comedy special Raw, and overachiever June (Leea Ayers) has just discovered, in the most tasteless way, that her longtime boyfriend is cheating on her. The women decide a night out is just what they need, but there is drama around every corner.

In Barnes’ tightly-paced script, sharp and frank observations about sex, police brutality and what it means to be a young black woman in America abound. Combined with intelligent and savvy direction from Nataki Garrett, Associate Artistic Director of Denver Center for the Performing Arts, BLKS has the feel of a solid pilot for a compelling and binge-worthy Netflix original series. Each character, from the three roommates to That Bitch on the Couch, a well-meaning but clueless young queer white woman (played to perfection by Kelly O’Sullivan) feels nuanced and real. Everyone has layers, fears, dreams both shared and kept locked inside. In other words, the characters in BLKS feel like real, true human beings from beginning to end.

Namir Smallwood and Leea Ayers star as Justin and June in BLKS by Aziza Barnes, Steppenwolf Theatre Leea Ayers stars as June in BLKS by Aziza Barnes, Steppenwolf Theatre Danielle Davis and Nora Carroll star as Ry and Octavia in BLKS by Aziza Barnes, Steppenwolf TheatreNora Carroll, Leea Ayers and Celeste M. Cooper star as Octavia, June and Imani in BLKS, Steppenwolf Theatre Namir Smallwood stars as Justin in BLKS by Aziza Barnes, Steppenwolf TheatreKelly O’Sullivan and Danielle Davis star as That Bitch On The Couch and Ry in BLKS, Steppenwolf Theatre

Sibyl Wickersheimer’s scenic design perfectly recreates a loft apartment in New York City: large and roughly constructed, with curtains to delineate everyone’s personal spaces (and lovely pops of turquoise throughout the whole set). T. Carlis Roberts’ sound design and original music provides a soundtrack that’s energetic and moody in equal measure, beautifully underscoring the play’s quieter, more serious moments. Additionally, Rasean Davonte Johnson provides brilliant projection design throughout.

The actors are as fantastic as the production team. Coming off a lovely performance in Victory Gardens’ Fun Home, Davis shines as the straight-talking yet vulnerable Ry, and Ayers is bursting with energy and attitude as June, who must now face life as a single woman. Steppenwolf ensemble member Namir Smallwood excels in three different roles, including the nerdy Justin, who finds himself in a very compromising position. Cooper, always magnetic and charismatic, is both hilarious and tragic as Imani, and Carroll as Octavia has all the makings of a breakout star. BLKS is incredibly provocative and just as enjoyable, inspiring hoots and hollers from the audience as well as inviting deeper thoughts.

  
Rating: ★★★½
  

BLKS continues through January 21st at Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted (map).  Tickets are $20-$89, and are available by phone (312-335-1650) or online through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information, including entire performance schedule, at Steppenwolf.org(Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes, includes an intermission. Note: may not be suitable for people under 18.)

Leea Ayers and Nora Carroll star as June and Octavia in BLKS by Aziza Barnes, Steppenwolf Theatre

Photos by Michael Brosilow 


  

artists

cast

Namir Smallwood (Justin, Sosa, Dominican Dude), Leea Ayers (June), Nora Carroll (Octavia), Celeste M. Cooper (Imani), Danielle Davis (Ry), Kelly O’Sullivan (That Bitch on the Couch)

behind the scenes

Nataki Garrett (director), Sibyl Wickersheimer (scenic design), Trevor Bowen (costume design), Marcus Doshi (lighting design), Rasean Davonte Johnson (projection design), T. Carlis Roberts (sound design, original music), Gigi Buffington (company vocal coach), Malcolm Ewen (stage manager), Cassie Calderone (assistant stage manager), JC Clementz (casting director), Anna D. Shapiro (artistic producer), Michael Brosilow (photos)

Namir Smallwood, Leea Ayers and Danielle Davis star as Justin, June and Ry in BLKS, Steppenwolf TheatreCeleste M. Cooper stars as Imani in BLKS by Aziza Barnes, Steppenwolf Theatre Kelly O’Sullivan  and Celeste M. Cooper star in BLKS by Aziza Barnes at Steppenwolf TheatreNora Carroll and Namir Smallwood star as Octavia and Justin in BLKS by Aziza Barnes, Steppenwolf TheatreNamir Smallwood and Leea Ayers star as Justin and June in BLKS by Aziza Barnes, Steppenwolf Theatre

17-1220

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: 2017 Reviews, Lauren Whalen, Steppenwolf

Comments (0)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

There are no comments yet. Why not be the first to speak your mind.

Leave a Reply