What occurs to an activist when a motion loses its steam? How do they grapple when the world they needed by no means involves fruition? Who bears the burden of passing the baton to the subsequent technology?
Playwright Dominique Morisseau asks these urgent questions on the price of activism and ensuing trauma in her play, Sundown Child, onstage at Actor’s Specific via October 16. Within the play, Nina, the daughter of former Black Panthers, is mourning the lack of her mom whereas scheming and robbing together with her boyfriend, Damon, to get the heck out of New York Metropolis. The hustle appears to be going their method, however when her estranged father, Kenyatta, exhibits up in search of love letters between himself and Ashanti X, Nina is pressured to cope with her personal fears round love, belief and abandonment.
Brittany Deneen performs the powerful and unrelenting Nina on this manufacturing. Deneen clutches Nina’s exhaustion, desperation and resistance to feeling all in her fist — then throws all of it out onto the stage. She’s needling, prickly and goals to get below everybody’s pores and skin in order that they don’t get below hers.
Watching Deneen and Sariel Toribio, who performs Damon, spar with one another onstage produces a few of the play’s most gripping moments. Damon is a proud Nuyorican and typically deadbeat dad, who is aware of nothing however the way to hustle and dominate. Toribio grasps this in a method that makes him magnetic onstage, filling up the area and sucking all of the air out of the room each time he enters the sparsely embellished condominium he shares with Nina.
Eddie Bradley Jr. offers a subdued efficiency as Kenyatta Shakur, perhaps too subdued at instances. Morisseau has written a person who holds his playing cards very near his chest and is a hustler himself. He has these spoken-word interludes about fatherhood and failure, however Bradley’s efficiency makes it laborious to consider that Kenyatta is genuinely curious about or involved about Nina.
Amanda Washington helms this manufacturing, which is cerebral and fraught with pressure. That is a type of quiet performs the place all of the viewers can do is look on. At instances, the air is so tight, it looks as if should you reached out your hand, you’d be shocked by the electrical energy round Nina’s studio condominium. That is the place Washington succeeds as a director.
Nevertheless, the stress by no means being damaged will get a bit sporting at instances. It is a play the place it appears like everybody hates one another and just like the one particular person everybody cherished has died. That’s a tough feeling to hold for 90 minutes with out an intermission and little or no comedian reduction.
This melancholia is underscored by Nina Simone’s music. Simone, who was a classically educated pianist, began out performing jazz requirements and concertos. Nevertheless, after the bombing of sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham, her music modified. The Civil Rights and Black Energy Actions impressed her to sing songs comparable to “Feeling Good,” “4 Girls” and “Mississippi Goddam.”
Simone’s story parallels that of the characters in some ways. By the mid-Seventies, Simone left the music business and suffered from mental-health points. Within the Netflix documentary What Occurred, Miss Simone?, the artist’s daughter, Lisa, who can also be a singer, describes a tedious relationship together with her mom.
That is maybe the place Sundown Child finds its intriguing premise. In the previous couple of years, there have been a couple of motion pictures that try and uncover the historical past of the Black Panthers, comparable to Evening Catches Us, One Evening in Miami and Judas and the Black Messiah, however Morisseau delves into the aftermath of unresolved activism trauma. After activists dwell via protests, raids, arrests and seeing their buddies killed, the place does the grief go?
Within the case of Ashanti X, she turned to medicine to assist her deal with the ache. And Kenyatta went to jail, obtained out and by no means stopped operating. Left within the cross hairs is Nina, who had books and tales however no glory. Everyone seems to be in search of somebody responsible, however Nina, Kenyatta and Damon should perceive the distinction between systemic limitations and private selections.
Kenyatta says in certainly one of his soliloquies that “revolution is the person within the mirror.” In Sundown Child, Morisseau exhibits how actions awaken the collective conscience by disrupting patterns, however the actual work begins at dwelling.