Kirsten Greenidge looks to musical and poetic motifs for her leading character’s search for self, but along the way this playwright forgets some dramatic fundamentals in the world preem of “Bossa Nova.” Greenidge also hits far too many false notes in this tale of a young black woman trying to discover her identity amid cultural clashes and family pressures in post civil rights-era America.
Dee (Francesca Choy-Kee) is the daughter of well-to-do African-Americans who move to the beat of the bossa nova that “chosen music of the comfortably bourgeoisie…devoted to calming the masses.” But Dee is no free-spirited girl from Ipanema — and she knows it — as she tries to find a place to fit in and find her own song. “I live in the crevices,” she says. “People look past me, over me, never at me. I live in the margins.”
She is surrounded by the hard-rock dogma of more forceful personalities: her Irish-Catholic private-school roommate (Libby Woodbridge); her hipster, black culture-obsessed white teacher (Tommy Schrider); and, most of all, her race-, class- and status-conscious mother (Ella Joyce), a Boston society matron who refuses to see her daughter as anything other than a reflection of herself.
Greenidge has a distinctive, sometimes non-naturalistic gift for wordmaking, full of symbols and style, and the work reads better than it plays — at least in this production, which is dominated by arch performances and static staging from helmer Evan Yionoulis. But then it’s difficult to overcome explicit, tell-don’t-show passages, such as “If we’re asking for change, what are we asking to change in to?”
The jazz-spirit of the writing is also not enough to overcome the problem of having such a blank-slate heroine, and Choy-Kee doesn’t make the character anything more than an archetype.
Greenidge has literary gifts, but “Bossa Nova” is a play that’s dramatically out of step, at least at this stage.