By award-winning poet and playwright Aziza Barnes
Directed by Nataki Garrett.
December 7 – January 28
The bond between girlfriends can be an insatiable rolling coaster of joy and pain, especially when you are exploring life with three different women in their 20s trying to make sense of the meaning of life. As the girlfriends in “BLKS” seek that symmetry in the bright lights and big city called New York City, they find common ground on the couch, the most communal piece of furniture in their shared apartment. This couch represents comfort, sanity and a sense of safety, a place where they can all come together and talk about their problems without being judged.
To help them live within the secret walls of that protection that lies within the couch where the homies could commune and bring their fantasies to life, these three friends self-medicate their sorrows away by smoking, drinking and seemingly having as much sex as possible to avoid the inevitable problems that await them outside the comfort of the couch.
“BLKS” is an experience as much as it is a play at the Steppenwolf Theatre. It tells several stories about how African Americans are viewed by others and from within. Steppenwolf once again brings to stage a play that wakes you up, slaps you in the face and shows you how life really is for those not concerned– the majority. It is a raw, in-your-face, tell-it-like-it-is story directed by Nataki Garrett, and it is a refreshing reminder that people have a voice and we all should listen to what they have to say.
Poet and playwright Aziza Barnes delivered with a very personal touch and brings to life how something as simple as a couch can bring the frustrations and anxieties of the world into one central place, where a person can see things more clearer. This play with the unique name “BLKS” is not about color more than it is about people who happened to be a different shade of color seeking to just belong.
“BLKS” is hilariously funny from the very first scene, however it takes a serious comedic turn when Octavia (Nora Carroll) discovers she has a genital mole. Disturbed by this hideous discovery, she freaks out and asks her girlfriend Ry (Danielle Davis) to examine it for her; unfortunately, Ry is not interested in playing doctor and exploring Octavia’s body in that way.
The mole chaos becomes even funnier when Imani (Celeste M. Cooper) goes frantic about Octavia’s mole and runs around trying to help. When Octavia tells them what the doctor told her, the girls immediately decide to have a date night of drunken fun before she sees the doctor the next day.
The funny scene where they discuss what could happen regarding the mole turns to a saddened scene when June (Leea Ayers) tries to help another woman get away from a man who is trying to harm her only for June to become involved in a fiasco where she is the one assaulted. The three girls are upset, which prompts Imani to call for the police. After waiting they realize that problems and really uncomfortable things will happen in your life, which is an unwelcomed wake-up call. This forces the three ladies to learn how to navigate the unpleasant truths of being unseen and unheard just because they are BLKS.
Then there’s the reality of being gay, straight and in a relationship with your lover and wondering about all of the inconsistencies in your friendship. Poet and playwright Barnes probes even further when she heightens the stereotype of Black men being mostly dissatisfying and how White women are condensed to feeling guilty to how they interact with Black people because they feel that interracial communication has changed.
The three women have a common bond in which they seek to find refuge within a world of inconsistencies. They fantasize about the illusions of happier times that help them mask their discomfort by empowering them within the clothes that they wear. June (Leea Ayers) feels pretty when she wears her white cotillion dress, Octavia (Nora Carroll) dresses in a big pink Afro wig with sunglasses when she wants to feel and look like Pam Grier, however Imani (Celeste M. Cooper) just doesn’t care about what she wears. Her mask is trying to be a stand-up comedian and bring back the life of her father’s laugh.
It was delightful to see a play that centered around strong minded African-American females telling a behind-the-scene story about their lives as women fighting for respect, love and equality. These four women played very powerful roles in showing how vulnerable they were on this highway called life even though we think we are on the right track.
And let’s not forget the one main male figure in the play, Namir Smallwood, who played three roles but his main character was Justin. Smallwood’s performance as a stoic nerd was truly hilarious and added a nice balance to the storyline. Smallwood’s in the window, nerdy stalker scene where he seeks to understand June’s remarks about being in love was like seeing “Bruh Man” from the sitcom “Martin” walking in the apartment from the window, only Namir’s usage of his facial movements and his vernacular were priceless. “BLKS” seems to be a combination of “In Living Color,” “Set It Off” and “Girlfriends” all rolled into one play–so you know this is a must-see play!
Barnes hones in on how each girl is searching for intimacy while discovering their own insecurities of feeling miserable about things in their lives. Barnes reflects back to her own experiences and does a remarkable job bringing laughter versus sadness to help people who have a tendency to run from their pain.
I would have liked to have seen a better ending more suitable to the overall impressive performance in “BLKS,” but like they say in the play, “F**ked up Sh*t happens.” All jokes aside, we highly recommend this riotously, hilarious, entertaining and interesting play that will keep you laughing on the couch.
A simple warning to those with gentle eyes and ears, this is a play with adult language and behavior and should be considered for “adults only.”
The Cast Includes:
Leea Ayers (June)
Nora Carroll (Octavia)
Celeste M. Cooper (Imani)
Danielle Davis (Ry)
Kelly O’Sullivan (That Bitch On The Couch/Drunk White Woman)
Namir Smallwood (Dominican Dude/Justin/Sosa)