“What happens to a dream deferred?…Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?” wondered poet Langston Hughes in his 1951 work “Harlem”.
Over sixty years later in that very borough, the teenage protagonists of The Kennedy Center’s Darius & Twig share the same questions as they struggle to balance soaring hopes with a darker reality.
Adapted from Walter Dean Myers’ affecting novel by Caleen Sinnette Jennings, Darius & Twig follows an aspiring writer and talented runner as they pursue their dreams on the troubled streets of Harlem.
Beset on all sides by troubles like neighborhood bullies, overworked or absent guardians, and financial struggles, the two friends hone their crafts and aim for coveted college scholarships. Set designer Andrew Cohen’s colorful backdrop frames the action with a bright, dreamy ambiance, which allows Darius’ flowing, storybook narration to take flight.
As Darius, Justin Weaks delivers a moving, kinetic performance as the emotional center of the show. His wide-eyed enthusiasm and gift of rhythm keep the play moving along on an infectious current of spoken-word.
The city streets come to life through Weaks’ verbal poetry, delivered in turns as a passive observer and as his angry alter ego Fury – an avenging falcon that is the personification of all Darius’ repressed rage. While Darius mostly sidesteps the danger and indignity of his surrounding neighborhood by diving into his writing, director Eleanor Holdridge lets him indulge his anger in Fury’s dark outbursts. It’s a clever way to express the repressed trauma of a youth forced to grow up far too soon.
DARIUS & TWIG
October 30 – November 8, 2015
Part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival
The Kennedy Center
2700 F Street, NW
Washington, DC 20566
1 hour, no intermission
Meanwhile, Christopher Wilson brings a more intense and brooding counterpoint to the friendship as burgeoning star athlete Twig. Twig often plays the joker to Darius’ earnest narrator, using wisecracks to deflect his own nagging doubts about escaping their troubled neighborhood. While Darius can rely on an alternate persona to vent his anger, Twig wears his emotions completely on his sleeve. Undeterred, Wilson navigates the challenge of Twig’s wild mood swings with practiced ease.
As Darius and Twig struggle along, unsung heroes Manu Kumasi and Latia Stokes each cycle through six or seven different characters to flesh out the neighborhood. The versatile Kumasi maintains a dizzying range of personas including goofy uncle Ernesto, natty publisher Lionel Dornich, and menacing bully Midnight. Stokes does a similar trick as she inhabits Darius’ kind teacher Miss Caroll, his struggling mother, and Midnight’s boastful sidekick, among others. The joy and ease with which the two create a broad tapestry of personalities is a testament to their skills and to Eleanor Holdridge’s canny direction.
The easy chemistry of the show’s two leads, along with the strong character work of Kumasi and Stokes, helps the show breeze along with nary a dull moment. As each lead stumbles, the other steps in to pick him up. While the production can be a bit too broad and literal, it’s surprisingly sophisticated for a young adult theatre. Darius & Twig serves up a lyrical, moving reminder for patrons young and old that we need each other to reach our true potential and take flight.
Darius & Twig . Adapted by Caleen Sinnette Jennings . Based on the novel by Walter Dean Myers . Directed by Eleanor Holdridge . Featuring Justin Weaks, Christopher Wilson, Manu Kumasi and Latia Stokes . Scenic Designer: Andrew Cohen .Costume Designer: Danielle Preston . Assistant Director: Harry Poster .Music Director/Composer: Nick Hernandez . Original Music and Sound Designer: Justin Schmitz .Fight Director: Robb Hunter . Lighting Designer: Johnathan Alexander .Properties Artisan: Jacy Barber . Production Stage Manager: Roy A. Gross . Produced by Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences . Reviewed by Ben Demers.