by Dael Orlandersmith
Directed by Gordon Edelstein
Featuring Roxanna Hope, Michael Laurence, Dael Orlandersmith, Matthew Schechter
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place
November 9, 2011 — December 11, 2011
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
November 19, 2011

  • “I love him but not like that, not the way he loves me.” (Desiree about Loman)
  • “I cook, I shoot, the pain goes away.” (Desiree)
(L-R) Roxanna Hope, Michael Laurence, Matthew Schechter, Dael Orlandersmith. Photo by Sara Krulwich.

In an assembly of monologues delivered directly to us without providing the audience a particular role (jury, AA assembly, family members), with occasions countable on no more than two hands in which any of the characters speak to one another, Dael Orlandersmith‘s characters (one played by the playwright herself) tell us a story of social drug use, young love, more serious drug use, childbirth, tragedy and other lives intersecting in New York City and surrounding areas in an unspecified present day.  One character speaks to us from the grave for the initial 20 minutes or so, another character walks off into an unencumbered future at the play’s end, and in between there is a wholly believable and relentless story of addiction, delusion, human pain, and destruction, as uncovered by the characters.  This isn’t a pleasant tale but is a powerfully acted multidimensional exploration of a mother, a father, their young son, and the nanny/housekeeper who keeps it all afloat for a while, all infused by class, culture and cocaine.

Desiree (Roxanna Hope) begins with a vivid and almost show-stopping description of a young woman dressing up for, living all week for, her Saturday nights on the dance floors of her New York City area nightclubs.  Dressing up with her girl friends, lines of coke keeping them animated initially, and those same lines of coke becoming more necessary over time.  On the way she meets a business man Loman (Michael Laurence), who enjoys substances and the dancing and their chemistry. Their child Luka is discussed at age three by Desiree then Loman, as Desiree’s drug use takes a nasty turn.  For the balance of the play Desiree is a presence far upstage or hovering lovingly or curiously around the other characters — Loman as he loses is grip ever so slightly, now 10-year-old Luka (Matthew Schechter) who observes his father, misses his mother who he remembers mostly for the color of her hair, and Mira (Dael Orlandersmith) who navigates her own middle-aged professional dreams of becoming a nurse with the realities of working for Loman and living in the projects near “Lexington 1-2-5”, where Roxanna, then Loman go to score cocaine and later heroin.  Luka observes and assembles the truth of his father’s drug use and finally makes an important decision of his own.  He is a survivor.

This ride is unadorned as structured by the playwright and presented by director Gordon Edelstein (four chairs, simple lighting, toy horses that provide concrete props and image and metaphor).  We can’t escape the story and the storytelling.  There is no middle-distance acting.  As crafted and as presented by these masterful performers, this story rips into you.

© Martha Wade Steketee (November 21, 2011)

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