Tuesday, May 7, 2019

BLKS

C-

After successful runs at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago and Wooly Mammoth in Washington, Aziza Barnes’s raunchy comedy about three 20-something black roommates in Bushwick has made it to New York, courtesy of MCC Theater.. The three roommates are Octavia (Paige Gilbert; School Girls), an aspiring screenwriter who has a rocky relationship with Ry (Coral Peña), her Latina lover and partner in filmmaking; June (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy; If Pretty Hurts..), an accountant/consultant with a boyfriend who is a serial cheater; and Imami (Alfie Fuller; Is God Is), a would-be stand-up comic whose specialty is recreating old Eddie Murphy routines. Octavia’s discovery of a spot on her clitoris sets the plot, such as it is, in motion. The roomies decide to have a night on the town before Octavia faces surgery. On a street near the downtown club to which they are headed, June is mugged when she tries to stop a black man from assaulting a white woman. The police are not interested in getting involved. At the club, Imami meets The Bitch on the Couch (Marie Botha}, a white woman who is attracted to black women but defensive about it. Octavia is taken advantage of by a selfish guy. June elicits the sympathy of Justin (Chris Myers; An Octoroon, Whorl inside a Loop), who follows her home and bangs on her window to see whether she is OK. He ends up spending the night on their couch where he has an interesting encounter with Octavia. There are signs that she and Ry may patch things up. We eventually find out why Imami is fixated on the comedy of Eddie Murphy. Octavia has her surgery and we learn whether she has lost sensation down there. There are some hilarious moments, but they do not cohere into a satisfying whole  The character of Imami is underwritten. Justin’s role is a sure scene stealer and the charming Myers makes the most of it. The prevailing comic mood is occasionally punctured by casual mention of issues related to the Black Lives Matter movement, as if they were items on a checklist. At times it felt like a long episode of “Girls.” The revolving set by Clint Ramos (Punk Rock, The Village Bike) allows the action to change location swiftly. Dede Ayite’s (American Son, School Girls) costumes are apt. I was surprised direction of the play was entrusted to a man, albeit a gay one, Robert O’Hara (Slave Play, Mankind). He keeps things moving briskly but too frequently encourages the actors to shout. The closer you are to the demographic of the characters, the likelier you are to enjoy the play. If you are not black, female (preferably lesbian) or young, satisfaction is not guaranteed. If frequent mention of cunnilingus and the clitoris makes you uneasy, this is definitely not for you. Running time: one hour 40 minutes; no intermission.

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