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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men

Also see Richard's reviews of God of Carnage and A Behanding in Spokane


Dael Orlandersmith
Across a bare wooden stage with just one chair and eight overhead lamps, Dael Orlandersmith, dressed in black pants and shirt, comes onto the stage. For the next 100 minutes the audience becomes spellbound as she relates the chronicles of the struggle of five boys haunted by childhood suffering. Maltreated and demeaned as children, they face the world with wounded eyes.

Dael Orlandersmith electrified the Berkeley Rep audiences with her 2004 play Yellowman, written for other actors. Here in a solo performance, her writing is fierce, bold, unbending and yet poetic. There is a lot of strong material as she describes the horrors that these boys had to go through just to reach adulthood. This drama is not for tender ears but it should be seen to understand what is still going on involving children in this city. This unwavering, authentic, raw drama is meant to inflame us, to jolt us out of our contented everyday lives. You will remember Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men long after you have seen it.

Dael Orlandersmith is a larger than life stage presence. She plays all of the male characters and not for a second did I believe she was not a man or boy. She adapts her stance, accent and deportment to become a half dozen Puerto Rican, Irish, African-American and other boys and men. She completely morphs into each character. Inspired by her days working as a social worker in a shelter for runaway kids, she is not afraid to tell all of the intimate details of these kids' lives.

There is Timmy, a frightened 7-year-old who bravely tries to protect his baby sister from the junkies and johns of their mother's life. He watches her eat a bag of heroin and die and, by age 11, he himself attempts suicide. In another scene, a man enjoying a sunny day in Manhattan's Central Park observes a father's warped means of trying to make his delicate son "masculine." There is a story about a small boy named Flaco whose mother molests him while his father denies the possibility ("that's not what mothers do").

As Artistic Director Tony Taccone says, "this amazing artist is 'speaking the unspeakable'." Bravo for the courage of Berkeley Rep in presenting this powerful drama. The production will be playing the Goodman Theatre in Chicago in the fall.

Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley, through June 24th. For tickets call 510-647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org. Coming next is Eve Ensler's powerful new play Emotional Creature opening June 14 and running through July 15th.


Photo: kevinberne.com

- Richard Connema



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