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Theatre Review by Jose SolĂ­s - September 12, 2018

Roland Lane, Alana Raquel Bowers,
Michael Oloyede, amd Tanyamaria
Photo by Hunter Canning

The Brooklyn of Geraldine Inoa's Scraps is one filled with ghosts. The phantasms come in myriad shapes: they're omnipresent like the mural depicting The Notorious B.I.G. which guards (or mourns for) the block from his altar on a bodega, they're fleeting like the memory of Forest, a young black man who was killed by police officers on his way to buy diapers for his son. They also come in the shape of unfulfilled destinies, such as Jean-Baptiste's (Roland Lane) an aspiring rapper who finds it impossible to leave the stoop on his building, where he spends his time smoking weed, creating verses and reading James Joyce's Dubliners perhaps thinking it belongs to a world where he's not welcome. Or promising futures stilted by violence, such as Adriana (Tanyamaria) an NYU student suffering from severe PTSD, following the death of her brother.

The ironic beauty of Scraps, running at The Flea through September 24, is the vivid way with which these ghosts are brought to life. Several of the characters are almost shaken into existence by Calvin's (Michael Oloyede) homecoming on Labor Day weekend. Making his first appearance in the neighborhood after leaving for Columbia University one year earlier, he shows up in a vest and tweed jacket, almost resembling an Oscar Micheaux character, and is instantly confronted by Jean-Baptiste who thinks he's become a bit too gentrified.

Soon we learn Calvin had a crush on Forest's girlfriend Aisha (Alana Raquel Bowers), and as they toy with the idea of a relationship, Inoa reminds us their lives unfortunately can be taken away in an instant for there's a presence more terrifying than any spectre: white policemen. We didn't even need to ask ourselves what was the race of the cop who killed an unarmed black man. We knew it. And with this horrible knowledge, the playwright makes a point of how embedded this senseless violence has become in each of us.

But more than being about "us," meaning society, theatregoers, liberal New Yorkers etc., the play is gloriously black. It welcomes people from all cultural and racial backgrounds, but lets us know we're guests in this space. The characters in Inoa's Brooklyn aren't there to educate or enlighten white people, they're not there to be mere morality tales, they're there to exist, to be given opportunities they might not be given in real life. They are there to be listened, not argued or conversed with.

Which is why when the play transforms from a naturalistic slice of life, into a surreal gameshow from hell in its second half, we are asked to sit and take in the fears, demons and curses that haunt the young black boy who lost his father as a baby. When there is so much pressure to be perfect as a black man and the cops can still break into your home and shoot you, how is this perfection even attainable?

The second half of the show provides director Niegel Smith, and his ensemble, better known as The Bats, the opportunity to go to places often denied to black storytellers who are asked to adhere to norms that will soothe, and by all means avoid discomforting, white audience members. The in-your-face approach of the second half of the show takes us straight into a nightmare, defying us not to have empathy, and above all not to pretend that the play is just fiction and that everything is OK in the outside world.

There is a moment earlier in the show where the four central characters go from bickering, to celebrating life as Notorious B.I.G.'s "Notorious Thugs" begins to play. It was Forest's favorite song, and as they remember their deceased friend, the promise of life becomes essential to fulfill. For anyone who's ever wondered why characters burst into song in musicals, Inoa has provided the perfect response. In this passing moment, the playwright builds a blissful bubble where the characters get to be themselves without the lens of the outside world, they're allowed a respite from a world of unfair expectations, racism and violence. Little do they know that the worst is yet to come, in that moment full of grace, they just ride, ride, ride, get high, get high, get high. And we feel blessed to be allowed to witness it.

Through September 29
The Flea Theater, 20 Thomas Street between Church and Broadway, three blocks north of Chambers
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix