Playwright: Dael Orlandersmith. At: American Blues Theater at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets: $19-$49. Runs through: Aug. 5
The only thing worse than being somewhere you don't want to be is seeing no way to leave it for someplace better. A young Dael Orlandersmith once surveyed New York City's East Harlem streets and vowed to escape. She made good on her promise, as evidenced by her casting as our stand-in narrator a successful author/poet. When we meet "Diane," she is sipping wine in a chic Village apartment where she regales us with the saga of her latest love affairending, like many others, abruptly and untimely.
Playgoers anticipating an evening of estrogenic reminiscences in the romantic tradition of Colette or Anais Nin are in for a disappointment, however. Diane ( who proclaims her favorite dance to be the "slide" ) recounts her tale of rejection by way of explaining why such setbacks have never impeded her progress. Don't arrive expecting a nostalgia-softened stroll through the old neighborhood, either. Liberation demands sacrifice, and while the Orlandersmith's multigender portraits of settlers unwilling to venture forth into uncharted territories are not without compassion, her reasons for leaving them behind are manifest.
Take Papo, for instance, the talented classmate too busy selling drugsalbeit in order to support his mother and keep his drunken father at bayto accept the scholarship that could free him , or Anthony, whose aspirations to a career as a jazz musician have been reduced to solitary midnight fantasies by stifling marital responsibilities embraced too soon. Let's not forget ex-bluesman Louis, boasting of his glory days in exchange for handouts to sustain his addiction. Finally, there is Beauty, herselfthe mother referenced in the title, a burlesque dancer rendered unemployable by childbirth scars, but all too eager to discharge her resentment on her offspring.
When life is lived this close to the bone, to befriend it is to risk being consumed by it. Orlandersmith's candor, with its refutation of tribal values, makes for a delicate line to walk, but solo performer Wandachristine, under the direction of Ron OJ Parson, navigates the nuances of expatriate guilt and triumph with the agile grace of those choosing re-invention over inertia. The resulting spoken-word panorama is enhanced by vivid sensory images, courtesy of an all-star technical team assembled for this American Blues Theater production, ensuring our understanding ( and our approval as well ) of the hard road taken by such proud pilgrims.