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Theatre Review by David Hurst - May 9, 2019

Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Alfie Fuller, and Paige Gilbert
Photo by Deen van Meer

The Maker's Mark starts flowing early for roommates Octavia, Imani and June in Aziza Barnes' BLKS, a deliciously outrageous, and utterly hilarious, new play that follows the friends adventures throughout a single day. The day in question, June 1, 2015 in Bushwick, starts with a clitoral cancer scare and ends with the women smoking a well-deserved joint as they assess the day's damage. But it's what happens in between that will have audiences laughing their heads off for 100 intermission-less minutes. And be prepared to check your white privilege and homophobia at the door of the Newman Mills Theater at the beautiful Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space in Hell's Kitchen. The revolutionary fact of Barnes' play is its protagonists are smart, single, sexy and, oh yeah, Black. And genderqueer. And cisgender. And questioning. Yes, it's true: BLKS a play by Black people for Black people . . . and you're going to love it whatever race and sexual orientation you may be.

The morning begins with Octavia, a fiercely confident Paige Gilbert, and her girlfriend Ry, the unflappable Coral Peña, finishing their off-stage sex, loudly! Octavia promptly goes to the bathroom to examine herself and is horrified to discover a mole on her clitoris. Is it cancerous? Will Ry, who's also Octavia's business partner in an upcoming, as yet unwritten film project, take a look "down there" and tell her what she sees? Well, no, she won't, which prompts Octavia to throw Ry out of the apartment and take consolation in her roommate Imani, a budding standup comic obsessed with Eddie Murphy's "Raw" (we eventually learn why) played with stylish panache by Alfie Fuller. They're soon joined by their roommate June, the wonderful Antoinette Crowe-Legacy. June is a high-powered accounting consultant who's unable to free herself from a serial-cheater boyfriend who she's just caught cheating . . . again.

As the three friends pour out their hearts and souls to each other, you become conscious of the piercing realness of the women's relationships. The dialogue is brutally honest and we immediately care about all of them, despite the fact each is deeply flawed and has serious emotional issues. Much of this is due to the unbridled talent of the actresses playing Octavia, Imani and June, but credit must also go to the tempo, tone and ambiance created by director Robert O'Hara. Unlike previous productions of BLKS at Steppenwolf and Woolly Mammoth, both of which were directed by Nataki Garrett, O'Hara brings a fast-paced touch, and his own outrageous sensibility, to the breakneck antics of the women as they go out for a night of clubbing and drinking where they run into a white girl with white girl guilt issues, the droll Marié Botha, as well as the super-sweet Justin, played to perfection by a chiseled Chris Myers. How June ends up in her cotillion dress and Justin ends up servicing Octavia on what may be the last night of her fully functioning clitoris are what drive BLKS day from the late-night hours into the morning. Barnes' play is raunchy and heartbreaking and unmissable.

Through June 2
The Newman Mills Theater at The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space, 511 West 52nd Street
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