THE BLACK THAT I AM at HERE ARTS CENTER, Soho

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Being performed at HERE ARTS CENTER Dorothy B. Williams Theater (145 Sixth Ave, NY, NY 10013), starting this Friday, March 17th, is THE BLACK THAT I AM, by Karl O’Bryan Williams. This poem, turned into an amazing play featuring now-historical challenges Blacks went through in the 2000’s, was performed in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017, as a one-woman show. In the current production in Soho, New York, the stories are lived onstage by 6 young actors, who deliver their characters with passion, enthusiasm, in sometimes very funny moments, sometimes reflective, or even painful ones.
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The poem starts with music, some vague lines said by each character, involving various themes which don’t seem clear yet to the audience early on. As we enjoy the songs, beautiful dance, the plot develops and becomes very clear monologues or dialogues, which deal with several issues of being Black. The first scene is probably the funniest, with two ladies in a church sharing their very different perspectives on religious beliefs, where one of them only really cares for good looks and how wel l–or not– churchgoers dress.
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Next, we see two men sharing their approaches on sexuality, what it is like to be an LGBTQ+ member in the first decade of the 21st century. Then we see other topics, such as racism, a Black woman who only dates white men, one light-skinned man whose family never taught him much about their Black ancestry as if it were irrelevant. One quite touching scene takes us back to the time of slavery, the shame of a man and a woman being sold in the market shown so well that the image of the two remains in our memories as if staring at a time-still experience.
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For a poem turned into a play, the lighting, music, costumes, dance, supertitles onscreen create a visual effect that helps us get into the stories, which do have a very strong message about being Black, shared by people from different nations/nationalities in even different times. Kudos to Director Will Brown for being able to put those pieces together efficiently and effectively. Such a meditation on Blackness.

Written by

KARL O’BRIAN WILLIAMS

Directed by WILL BROWN

THREE-WEEK LIMITED ENGAGEMENT

MARCH 17 – APRIL 2, 2023 AT HERE ARTS CENTER

OPENING NIGHT IS SATURDAY, MARCH 18 AT 7 P.M.

TICKETS ON SALE NOW AT BRAATAPRODUCTIONS.ORG

THEATRE REVIEW by Lucas Eller