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Eve's Song

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - November 7, 2018

Karl Green, DeĀ’Adre Aziza, and Kadijah Raquel
Photo by Joan Marcus

Playwright Patricia Ione Lloyd stands on the shoulders of giants to bring us a sizzling and darkly comic new work, Eve's Song, opening tonight at the Public Theater in a riveting production about the plight of black women in America who have been and continue to be condescended to, verbally and physically abused, and even killed.

De'Adre Aziza stars as Deborah, a recently-divorced businesswoman who is striving with all her power of will to maintain a stable household for her two children, the nerdy 14-year-old Mark (Karl Green) and 19-year-old Lauren (Kadijah Raquel), a first-year college student who is involved in a growing romantic relationship with a slightly older social justice activist (a wonderfully upbeat and offbeat Ashley D. Kelley).

Between the challenges of being a single parent to teenaged children who are drifting away from her protective grasp, growing troubles at work, and coping with the aftermath of her divorce, the center cannot hold much longer for Deborah, who is hanging on by an unraveling thread of perceived normalcy. Over time, we watch as her carefully planned attempts to maintain her home as a sanctuary crumble all around her, along with Riccardo Hernandez's fluid and intriguingly changing set design.

The tone of light satire that kicks things off with a news broadcast about rescuing a puppy from a well and then segues to a brief "in other news" insert about the shooting of an unarmed black man, gradually dissipates the deeper we get into the play. The less comic it becomes, the more disconcerting it is, as caricatures and a deliberate toying with stereotypes give way to realism, and beyond that, to the dream-like surrealism of a devastating ending.

Eve's Song, with its mix of satire, domestic drama, and elements of the supernatural, is both rooted in history and as current as today's headlines, a deft coming together of #blacklivesmatter and #metoo as told by a masterful storyteller who, most appropriately, is a part of the Smithsonian Institution's Griot Project. Like a traditional West African griot, Ms. Lloyd is the keeper of the flame, the repository of the knowledge of her tribe. In this case, it is a tribe of writers and artists whose inspirational voices echo throughout: playwrights like August Wilson, Ntozake Shange, and Robert O'Hara, and visual artists Kara Walker and Ellis Wilson.

From August Wilson, there's the sweep of history and the infusion of the metaphysical, embodied in the play by the haunting images of three Spirit Women (Vernice Miller, Rachel Watson-Jih, and Tamara M. Williams). From Ntozake Shange, there is an infusion of theatrical poetry of the sort that fill her masterwork, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf. From Robert O'Hara, there is the racially-charged comic satire of Barbecue and Bootycandy.

The production also uses shadows and projections (lighting by Lap Chi Chu and projections by Hana S. Kim) suggestive of the biting images of racism captured in silhouette by artist Kara Walker. And finally, there is one very specific piece of art, Ellis Wilson's "Funeral Procession," that provides a central image for the play. You may recognize the now-famous representation of a long, long line of black men, women, and children in an endless march. It was featured for many years on TV's "The Cosby Show," itself an irony that cannot be lost in the context of the play.

Much credit must go to director Jo Bonney, who manages to keep the intentionally disparate components of tone and style from clashing. In doing so, she is in perfect sync with Patricia Ione Lloyd, a playwright who joins the ranks of other black women writers like Anna Deavere Smith, Lynn Nottage, and Suzan-Lori Parks (all of whom have had plays directed by Ms. Bonney) who offer theatergoers the too-often stifled voices of their gender and race. Eve's Song is an auspicious launching into the limelight for Ms. Lloyd and a coup for the Public Theater, which had the wonderful good sense to name her as its Tow Foundation Playwright-in-Residence. Kudos all around!

Eve's Song
Through December 9
LuEsther Hall at The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street at Astor Place
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