There are only just so many stories to tell, despite what any author says. But it's how the story is told is the key. A play, very often, like a child, leaves the nest of paternal guidance and control and becomes a separate being with unique thoughts and desires. It possesses the basics of what it has been given but takes that foundation as a leaping off point, becoming its own thing.
Playwright and poet Aziza Barnes’ autobiographical comedy play BLKS is doing that in its current production now running at the new Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater space after previously being performed and nurtured at Steppenwolf and Woolly Mammoth.
This was my first time at this new 52nd Street MCC venue. It is a very comfortable balconied proscenium space with no bad seats that strives, and achieves to some degree, to incorporate the pluses of a black box. It’s a good space to highlight the art of theatre.
BLKS, like the title, is a redux play about the raw truth of youngish black women and their views on men, sex, race, hooking up, sisterhood, intimacy, scratch the skin blunt honesty (C*ntbucket!), friendship, gender identity, trust, white people and love. It transcends all of those hashtags thanks to the directing and the excellent ensemble cast that combines their talents to lift the play out of sitcom and stereotype and let the audience in past the defensiveness of immaturity.
Director Robert O’Hara and scenic designer Clint Ramos have created a whirling dervish of urban spaces on stage that spin at a voracious velocity to highlight just another fiery and impulsive day of twenty-something roommates Octavia (Paige Gilbert), Imani (Alfie Fuller) and June (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy). Starting from the couch of their shared living room and moving out into the streets, they lift their voices on high railing against the lives they are living, and fighting both for and against each other for the lives they should be living. Mostly
unemployed, these three women feed the hot air in each other's balloons to keep their out-of-control lives aloft.
Octavia has just discovered “a black mole on my f**king cl*t” and learns (through sending a mole selfie to her dermatologist aunt) that it could be cancerous and needs to be removed putting her in fear of any future sex plans with her loosely labelled romantic partner Ry (Coral Pena), or anyone else for that matter. Imani, in searching to connect again with her deceased father’s laugh, is aspiring to be a comedian by performing Eddie Murphy’s stand-up set of Raw. She finds a fan in a white woman (Marie Botha), character name That Bitch on the Couch, who spends most of her lines banging her head against Imani’s high walls and apologizing for being white. And June, after being cheated on by her boyfriend again for a double-digit time meets up with the always prepared Justin (Chris Myers, strongly chameleoning three variances of maleness in the play) who fixes her five-inch heel and possibly holds the patch to the hole in her heart.
The play is ultimately about something that everyone on this planet strives for, the universal search for love. What it does different is, it puts us in the passenger seat for a great ride in a vehicle that we don’t often get a chance to cruise in to get there.
Having also read Aziza’s poetry, I’m looking forward as she matures and to what she will have to say as an artist and fellow traveller on this planet during my lifetime.
(Photo by Deen van Meer)
"Comedy depends on people behaving badly. So does tragedy. That’s good news for BLKS, the first play by the poet and performer Aziza Barnes. Aiming to be a raucous comedy of misbehavior and a quiet tragedy of mistreatment, it amazingly succeeds at both."
Jesse Green for New York Times
"After reading the poetry, the theatrical Barnes is a surprise: less formally radical, much more interested in convention and realism. BLKS operates like a sitcom, withSex and the City–style leaps of logic, sudden romances and the requisite piles of coincidence."
Helen Shaw for Time Out New York
"Seeing the 100-minute BLKS is to tour Brooklyn at night and wake-up wasted. But in a good way."
Robert Hofler for The Wrap
"Resembling an African-American variation on HBO's Girls, the play — receiving its NYC premiere at off-Broadway's MCC Theater after acclaimed runs at Chicago's Steppenwolf and Washington, D.C.'s Woolly Mammoth — is decidedly sitcom in its sensibilities. Albeit a sitcom on cable or streaming rather than broadcast, since the humor is in-your-face raunchy from beginning to end. Fortunately, for all its overly calculated provocation, the play is also very, very funny at times, which goes a long way toward making up for its thinness."
Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter