'sandblasted' review — a 'thoughtful and worthwhile' story of sisterhood and survival

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    February 28, 2022
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    Holding it together takes on unexpected meaning in Charly Evon Simpson’s sandblasted, an offbeat and intriguing play about self-preservation, survival, and sisterhood that’s streaked with humor even when the going gets rough. Really rough.

    That includes when a woman’s arm falls off and lands with a disconcerting thud on the ground. Better, on the sand. There’s a pile of it on stage at Vineyard Theatre, where the show’s setting could be a beach or a desert beneath a sky flecked with fluffy clouds. Then again, this sandscape also comes with a curved wall, two doors, and a window, suggesting that the author isn’t simply chasing realistic, down-to-earth dimensions. 

    The story follows the amiable Angela (Brittany Bellizeare) and the no-B.S. Odessa (Marinda Anderson) who meet and become fast friends thanks to shared life experiences, despite their differences. As noted in the script, these women, like the other characters, are Black. 

    Angela and Odessa are in their 30s and coming undone from the strains of being who they are — and apparently not just figuratively. Like generations of women before them, they are actually crumbling. It’s Odessa who drops a limb early on in the 105-minute, intermission-free play. “Is there blood?” asks Angela. “Not a drop,” says Odie. “So strange,” says Angela. “Even with such a large body part, no blood.” With a bit of ingenuity, the resilient Odessa reconnects her lost arm. 

    Later, Angela loses parts of herself and gamely carries on. But when her younger brother, Jamal (Andy Lucien), a nice-guy bartender, sees humor in her plight, she reads him the riot act. “None of this is funny … it starts with ears and noses … and then there is nothing else to fall off, so we start falling apart inside.” 

    Unwilling to accept their fate of complete collapse (caused by the inequities, injustices, invisibility, you name it, that erode at them), Angela and Odessa search for remedies to keep them “from turning to sand.” They seek wisdom from Adah (Rolonda Watts), an Oprah-like older lifestyle guru, who either has immunity or knows ways to protect herself. Adah initially chalks her longevity up to spinach and magic, but what seems to be most therapeutic is the three women’s time together.

    Simpson’s work has at least two nods to Samuel Beckett’s absurdist works. The sight of umbrellas and women buried in sand recalls Happy Days. Numerous references to waiting and the retracing of steps echo, naturally, Waiting for Godot. Simpson puts her own mark on existing templates.

    One of the play’s most stirring strokes is Angela’s fascination with fulgurites, glass formations that can result when lightning strikes sand. Although they’re delicate and breakable, fulgurites vibrate with power. The same goes for Angela, Odessa, and Adah. 

    Guided by director Summer L. Williams, all four actors click and deftly bring out the story’s funny and deeper shadings. As the play proceeds through 18 relatively bite-sized scenes on Matt Saunders’s evocative sandy set, the pacing sometimes stalls as the story periodically restates itself. If the precise message of the play remains somewhat elusive in the end, it’s a thoughtful and worthwhile work. 

    sandblasted is at Vineyard Theatre through March 13. Get sandblasted tickets on New York Theatre Guide.

    Photo credit: Marinda Anderson, Rolonda Watts, and Brittany Bellizeare in sandblasted. (Photo by Carol Rosegg)