Laughter and joy anchor SpeakEasy Stage Company’s “BLKS”, a tumultuous comedy (until November 20) whirling around hip-hop, Maker’s Mark and lots of love between three friends: Octavia, June and Imani.
For an hour and 40 minutes straight, viewers peek into the lives of these young people in their twenties who embark on a wild night out after Octavia (Elliot Norton Award nominee Shanelle Chloe Villegas) discovers that she could have a serious health problem.
About four minutes into Aziza Barnes’ game, the crowd chuckles. A happy intimate encounter between Octavia and Ry (Sandra Seoane-SerÃ) turns sour when expectations aren’t met, and two meals of Popeyes chicken and a glass of red wine signal June (Thomika Marie Bridwell) that her boyfriend is long time deceives. While her deception is fed up, June is really upset by the idea of ââmixing red wine and Popeyes. It’s just cheesy, she thinks. Meanwhile, Kelsey Fonise’s Imani dreams of doing stand-up. For her first performance, Imani plans to perform “Raw” by Eddie Murphy, whom she has studied for ages.
Upon entering the theater, it is evident that the show revolves around living characters. The scene about set designer Jenna McFarland Lord for the New York narrative features black walls painted with broad strokes of white, red, yellow and green geometric shapes and lines inspired by the work of artist Maxime Manga.
There’s a lot going on in the play, cleverly directed by Tonasia Jones, one of WBUR’s ARTery 25s. There are times when the character’s outbursts seem outrageous and absurd, but it’s intentional. Antics echo the explosive emotions that describe coming of age – when you’re trying to figure out who you are, what’s important, and how to grow and prosper. During this time of life the difficulties can seem overwhelming and often the answer, at least in the meantime, is to hang out with friends while dabbling in a bit of debauchery.
But some of the most powerful moments occur in silence or in rapid flashes of honesty. For example, after June’s encounter with violence, friends sit with her for a few minutes, supporting her with just their company. Another time, Octavia tells Ry, who she’s been seeing for a few months, to “Be fair with me, we can figure the rest out later.” Please. âWhen June wants to know why Ry loves Octavia, Ry explains that in the company of Octavia, the world seems to have more light. A simple but piercing commentary on what love can feel.
All the characters are extremely funny, but the gullible and weird Justin (Sharmarke Yusuf) steals a few scenes. He’s a Krazy Glue carrier, a sensitive guy, and a seemingly nice stalker (if there is such a thing) who tends to miss social cues. But when he finds himself in the middle of a fight between the trio of friends, he realizes that he is not meant to stay.
Complications in dating, inability to communicate, vulnerability, police brutality and much more appear in the lives of these friends who do their best to be there for each other. But what’s exciting is that it’s also a never-before-seen view of their existence, with no code changes.
In a recent “City Line” interview, Bridwell said, “This is the language in which I speak to my daughters.”
Jones says in the program notes that the play, which celebrates the joy of the black woman, “is a love letter to our sorrows. A love letter to our double consciousness. To our intensity. To our click. To our arrivalâ¦ to our fraternity.
SpeakEasy Stage Company’s production of “BLKS” is on view through November 20 at the Calderwood Pavilion. Ticket holders must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test, and all members of the public must wear masks.