Seeking the Genesis

In her drama of struggle and survival on the mean streets, Kia Corthron has flavored "Seeking the Genesis" with a rhythmic and poetic sense of urgency. Often compelling, the play occasionally loses its focus with intrusive sidebars on varied issues.

With:
Cast: Kevin Rahsaan Grant (Kite), Donn Swaby (Justin), Sharon Washington (Teacher), Aunjanue Ellis (C Ana), Lindsay E. Finnie (Kandal), Soraya Butler (Cheryl/Customer), Lloyd Goodman (Mitch), Chris McKinney (Sac), Armand Schultz (Professor/Pizza Man).

In her drama of struggle and survival on the mean streets, Kia Corthron has flavored “Seeking the Genesis” with a rhythmic and poetic sense of urgency. Often compelling, the play occasionally loses its focus with intrusive sidebars on varied issues.

C Ana (Aunjanue Ellis) is a black single mother who has already lost one son to street violence and is making desperate attempts to prevent her 16-year-old son, Justin (Donn Swaby), from a similar fate, and to protect her 6-year-old hyperactive boy, Kite (Kevin Rahsaan Grant), from chemical dependency. Justin, himself a single parent who dotes upon his newborn, is a former drug pusher now running handguns for a vicious thug.

When little Kite brings an automatic to school, C Ana fears he’s on the same dead-end track as his brothers. Ridalin is prescribed to slow the child down, leading to chronic insomnia and weight loss. The danger of attention deficit disorder is the drama’s most bracing comment, prompting a teacher to note, “bad little boys are a nuisance, but bad big boys are armed and dangerous.”

Several other issues invade the narrative, including the educational process in elementary schools, the shortage of books and teaching materials and even a discourse on latenight, hourlong television commercials. A near-fatal wound awakens Justin, who begins to realize the senselessness of random killings. After a life-affirming soliloquy in which he reflects upon his precious infant daughter, Justin begins a personal crusade by cutting newspaper clippings about slain children and victims of stray bullets and papering the corridors and doors of the project with the daily headlines. This becomes a kind of rallying cry for truth.

Ellis is fine as the concerned parent, and Swaby, as Justin, gives a boldly confident portrait of anger and determination. There is a poignant coda from young Grant as he pleads for the pills that will make him a good little boy.

A long stretch of blackboard dominates as a backdrop for the spare stage, which serves as apartment and schoolroom, and a cutting light design accents some of the more ominous moments with good effect. Kaia Calhoun’s directorial hand is firm throughout.

Seeking the Genesis

Production: NEW YORK A Manhattan Theater Club presentation of a play in two acts by Kia Corthron. Directed by Kaia Calhoun.

Crew: Set, Christine Jones; costumes, Tom Broecker; lighting, Scott Zielinski; sound, Fabian Obispo; stage manager, Laurie Goldfeder. Opened June 17, 1997, at MTC's Stage II. Reviewed June 12; 150 seats, $ 32. Running time: 2 HOURS, 5 MIN.

With: Cast: Kevin Rahsaan Grant (Kite), Donn Swaby (Justin), Sharon Washington (Teacher), Aunjanue Ellis (C Ana), Lindsay E. Finnie (Kandal), Soraya Butler (Cheryl/Customer), Lloyd Goodman (Mitch), Chris McKinney (Sac), Armand Schultz (Professor/Pizza Man).

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