In recent years, turning on the TV or radio, or even just logging in to Facebook, can often feel like a feat of the will. The barrage of stories of unspeakable violence, pain and anguish is staggering. Some days, it feels as if the human race is trying to tear itself apart. I am often left feeling helpless and disheartened.
Theater Alliance’s brownsville song (b-side for tray) offers a small glimmer of hope in this broken world. Although it tells of how a young man’s promising life is cut short by gang violence, brownsville song is ultimately a story of empathy, forgiveness, and finding strength in coming together. This is an increasingly necessary topic, and one that is appearing more frequently in DC’s theatrical zeitgeist, in works such as Ford’s Theatre’s Come From Away or Forum Theatre’s I Call My Brothers. This is an important play, and I applaud Theater Alliance for bringing it at a time it’s needed most.
We know the play’s ending as soon as the lights come up: Tray, a vivacious, smart 18 year-old living in a tight-knit neighborhood in Brooklyn will die. But we, like everyone in Tray’s life, can’t help falling under the spell of his infectious smile, his deep love for his family, and his drive to be the best he can be. He lives with his grandmother Lena, and younger sister Devine, and when a figure from their past returns, it is young Tray who argues for forgiveness and reconciliation. And ultimately, through his death, the foundations for that reunion are forged.
Playwright Kimber Lee’s lyrical text is beautiful – often sounding more like poetry than prose. She reveals the plot gradually, weaving together memories with the present day. Director Paige Hernandez expertly crafts the instances where past and present are intertwined, using dance and music to heighten the moments. At times, the story can feel a bit slow, but it is more of a meditation on a life lived rather than a driving, action-filled plot.
The acting is superb with several very strong performances. Lolita Marie is absolutely stunning as Grandma Lena, mastering her nuanced mix of grief and determination. Sideeq Heard shines as the effervescent Tray, and Kita Grayson’s quiet, young Devine is haunting. Regina Aquino intrigues as the tortured Merrell, and Avery Collins is endearing as tough guy Junior.
brownsville song (b-side for tray)
closes October 9, 2016
Details and tickets
Debra Kim Sivigny’s sets are a highlight of the production, featuring large, beautiful mural walls and chain-link fence, transporting us to the streets of Brooklyn. Her expert costumes further realize this world. The original music by Nick the 1da is fantastic – melding piano with hip-hop and classical with rap – lending an energetic beat for the action of the play. The lighting by William K. D’Eugenio is dark and moody, bathing the action in a sharp contrast of light and shadow as we weave in and out of time.
While brownsville song (b-side for Tray) may seem like just another story of tragedy in a world that has already seen too many, I ensure you it is not. It is personal, and it is insightful. I encourage you to go and be uplifted by its message of hope in unity and love.
brownsville song (b-side for tray) by Kimber Lee. Director and Choreographer: Paige Hernandez. Featuring: Lolita Marie, Sideeq Heard, Kita Grayson, Regina Aquino, and Avery Collins.Scenic and Costume Design: Debra Kim Sivigny. Lighting and Sound Design: William K. D’Eugenio. Original Music Composition: Nick the 1da. Properties and Set Dressing: Patti Kalil. Stage Manager: Kelsey Jenkins . Produced by Theater Alliance at the Anacostia Playhouse . Reviewed by Sarah Scafidi.