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Off Broadway Reviews


Theatre Review by David Hurst - February 28, 2022

Rolonda Watts, Brittany Bellizeare, and Marinda Anderson
Photo by Carol Rosegg
The world premiere of Charly Evon Simpson's sandblasted shows an ambitious play that wants to be groundbreaking. Unfortunately, despite a game cast and a jaw-dropping set, the Vineyard Theatre and Women's Project Theater's 100-minute, intermission-less co-production quickly wears out its welcome and tests its audience's patience for an absurdist comedy that ultimately has very little to say.

Extensively workshopped since 2019, Simpson's sandblasted has clearly been influenced by Beckett's Happy Days and, more directly, Waiting for Godot. As the play begins, two 30-something Black women, Angela (Brittany Bellizeare) and Odessa (Marinda Anderson), are discovered taking sand baths in the desert. The women are falling apart, figuratively and literally, on a journey of self-discovery to stop the aging process in stressed-out Black women. This all began (we learn from a flashback scene later in the play) with Angela and Odessa seeking out the self-help guru, Adah (Rolonda Watts), and begging her to let them follow her. Which they're doing, but without the results or revelations for which they were hoping. Adah agrees and suggests they head East. Or West. The direction is irrelevant. And, thus, the plodding sandblasted begins.

To be sure, the opening ten minutes of sandblasted are exciting. We've never seen anything quite like what Simpson serves up along with director Summer L. Williams. Angela and Odessa engage in light-hearted banter about the perils of being Black women and what that stressful existence can result in, in terms of physical decay. Then the unthinkable happens and Odessa's left arm falls off. It's a surprisingly realistic looking arm, courtesy of props supervisor Matthew Frew, and it falls with a plop onto the sand (it seems like tons of sand have been dumped on the stage by scenic designer Matt Saunders). But Simpson's metaphor that Black women are literally falling apart, the first of many metaphors, quickly strains credulity.

The cast, which also includes the superfluous character of Jamal, Angela's brother (Andy Lucien), do what they can with Simpson's meandering structure which bounces around in time for no apparent reason. Watts, a former television journalist and talk-show host, is particularly wonderful as the Oprah-esque Adah, and Bellizeare and Anderson do what they can with their characters, though they frequently resort to "schtick" while they plod endlessly through the sand. At its core, however, the women continue to try to heal themselves, and each other, but the uneven sandblasted doesn't make it easy for anyone, especially the audience.

Through March 13, 2022
Vineyard Theatre / Women's Project Theater
Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street (between Union Square East and Irving Place)
Tickets online and current performance schedule: