×

Black N Blue Boys/Broken Men

Abused and abusing, the titular figures in "Black N Blue Boys/Broken Men" struggle to escape cycles of domestic violence.

With:
With: Dael Orlandersmith.

Abused and abusing, the titular figures in “Black N Blue Boys/Broken Men” struggle to escape cycles of domestic violence. But at present this latest work by playwright-actress Dael Orlandersmith (“Yellowman”) has its own issues to work through — chiefly, a garrulous text of multicharacter monologues that never trust that suggestive economy could be more effective than heavy-handed, literal-minded bathos. Besides, Orlandersmith’s tentative solo performance suggests she has yet mastered the text. One hopes both script and production will gain nuanced strength as the Berkeley Rep/Goodman Theater co-production moves forward.

The half-dozen subjects here (fictive despite their aura of Anna Deavere Smith-type docudrama) are all New Yorkers, running the gamut of race, class and age. Flaco, for instance, is a Coney Island ‘Rican kid who could convince no one his mentally ill mother sexually abused him — even social workers figure that’s something only men do. During the evening Flaco keeps updating us on a personal case-history that gets much worse (running away, turning tricks and getting high from age 12) before it gets better.

Other characters get just one or two shots at telling their story. Old-salt Central Park fixture Larry recalls improbably precise memories of every time a white “stockbroker type” bullied his “sissy” youngest son. South Bronx tot Timmy “wonders where God is” as mom’s serial bad boyfriends introduce her to heroin, crack, prostitution and criminal child neglect. Ian is a transplanted Brit who wrestles against the stereotypical misogyny and violence of his Irish-Catholic pub-drunk ancestry; African-American Brooklynite Mike discovered early on he was a “trick baby,” thus least valued by an unstable hooker mom and stepdad.

These first-person narratives are full of difficult, potent themes. But in nearly every case the story goes overboard, risking politically correct abuse-scenario caricature via melodramatic cliches and on-the-nose speeches. There’s a lean, mean show here about the toll of abuse, but as yet it’s buried under an early-draft pileup of well-intentioned writerly excesses.

It didn’t help that on opening night Orlandersmith seemed to be dashing through the voluminous text, frequently line-stumbling and sometimes seeming to lose her place. That left little room for quieter shadings of character the show could use much more of (just as it could use fewer narrative crises and digressive descriptive details). Shorn of any costuming changes, she etches the all-male roles in physical and vocal terms that are distinct but often superficial. They all could use some wearing in, particularly Uncle Tenny, a blandly self-justifying white pederast whom Orlandersmith didn’t yet seem to have a handle on.

Yew’s production is spare and effective in design terms, notably in Daniel Ostling’s stark set (torn-asunder apartment floorboards) and Ben Stanton’s subtle lighting changes.

Popular on Variety

Black N Blue Boys/Broken Men

Berkeley Rep; 401 seats: $73 top

Production: A Berkeley Repertory Theater/Goodman Theater co-presentation of a play in one act by Dael Orlandersmith. Directed by Chay Yew.

Creative: Set, Daniel Ostling; costumes, Anita Yavich; lighting, Ben Stanton; sound, Mikahil Fiksel; dialect coach, Lynne Soffer; dramaturg, Madeleine Oldham; stage manager, Leslie M. Radin. Opened, reviewed May 30, 2012. Running time: 1 HOUR, 40 MIN.

Cast: With: Dael Orlandersmith.

More Legit

  • David-Alan-Grier-Blair-Underwood

    David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood to Star in 'A Soldier's Play' on Broadway

    David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood will star in a Broadway production of Pulitzer-Prize winning drama “A Soldier’s Play.” The play, written by Charles Fuller, is set in 1944 and follows a murder mystery centered around the death of black Sergeant Vernon C. Waters (played by Grier) who is found on a Louisiana army base. [...]

  • The Inheritance review

    'The Inheritance' Announces Broadway Cast

    After an Olivier-winning run in London, “The Inheritance” is gearing up for its Broadway debut. The two-part epic has set the cast for its transfer from the West End to the Great White Way. John Benjamin Hickey, Paul Hilton, Samuel H. Levine, Andrew Burnap and Kyle Soller are among the cast members reprising their roles [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Announces 2020 National Tour

    ‘Hadestown’, the eight-time Tony award winning Broadway musical, is set for a national tour in 2020. The show will stop in more than 30 cities including Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and more. The musical is a stage adaptation of the Greek myths of Orpheus and Eurydice and King Hades and his wife [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Listen: Why Jake Gyllenhaal Is His 'Best Self' in the Theater

    Looking for the best possible version of Jake Gyllenhaal? You’ll find it onstage, according to the actor himself. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “I am my best self when I’m working in the theater,” Gyllenhaal said on the latest episode Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast, on which he appeared with Carrie Cracknell, the director of [...]

  • Photo: Jeremy Daniel

    'The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical' Gets Broadway Run

    “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” is Broadway bound. The musical adaptation of the franchise about a teenager who discovers he’s the son of Poseidon hits the Great White Way on Sept. 20 ahead of an Oct. 16 opening night. It comes on the heels of an extensive, nationwide tour that took the show [...]

  • Tom Sturridge Jake Gyllenhaal

    Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge Celebrate 'Sea Wall/A Life' With Star-Studded Opening Night

    A star-studded audience looked on as Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge returned to the stage for their double monologue performance in “Sea Wall/A Life.” Theater-goers and celebs including Anne Hathaway, Tom Hiddleston and John Mulaney gathered in Manhattan’s Hudson Theatre for opening night, celebrating a show tackling grief, birth and death through the eyes of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content