Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol
Also see Fred's review of Pippin
Orlandersmith saw a documentary film called Forever which takes place in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Jim Morrison, a formative person for Orlandersmith, is buried there. So, too, are Richard Wright, Frederic Chopin, Modigliani, and others she admired. Beulah Smith, the playwright's mother, very much wanted to visit Paris. Orlandersmith says, "As a child, I dreamt of a City of Light." She then references Morrison and The Doors. Later in the evening, she speaks, with great regard, of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night.
A versatile person of the arts, Orlandersmith calls upon herself to reach into her memory and enact her story through a difficult, sometimes destructive relationship with her mother. That woman was greatly disparaging of her daughter, and said to Dael, "I want you to look good since you're a reflection of me." When her mother has passed on, Dael visits her in the morgue and finds a "sad, desperate woman." Still, she fears her: the "casket is in the ground. She is gone officially, she is gone." While alive, alcoholic Beulah was a woman who had men, and she gave birth to another child; this was unknown, for years, to Dael. The mother/daughter relationship was poignantly painful for Dael, who wears the black attire furnished by costumer Kaye Voyce.
Director Neel Keller worked closely with Orlandersmith to develop Forever, which commands full attention throughout. The writer's brutal description and intimate delivery of the horrific rape she endured is tragic and difficult. That this actor is able to bring such a performance night after night, digging deeply through her heart and soul, is staggering.
Orlandersmith grew up in Harlem and the South Bronx. Forever, though, also speaks of important time spent in Greenwich Village (actually the East Village and St. Mark's Place). Her show fortunately includes musical allusions. Otherwise, the tenor of the dialogue might overwhelm.
This is a one-woman show about two women, about a child and a parent, about survival. After her mother died in 1989, Orlandersmith came to transcend some of the individually torturous times to realize that this fabric's story continues. The overall production benefits from specificity. For example, when the actress places the needle on the turntable to play a tune, one hears scratches associated with that procedure. Sound design by Adam Phalen and lighting by Mary Louise Geiger must be and are precise.
Forever benefits from this particular genre and its staging at Long Wharf Theatre's Stage II. Everyone observing draws immediate focus on Orlandersmith's every word and movement. As an actor, she connects from moment one with the audience through her voice and physicality. As a writer, she is unafraid to bring forth frightful recollections. The fusion of written word with performance is absolutely satisfying.
Director Keller and Orlandersmith have known one another for years. One has to imagine that the director, with commentary and response, must have been pivotal as Forever grew. That give-and-take helped to fuel the finished work. Yes, it is the story of an adult woman seeking, perhaps, resolution from a woman who did not give her the love she so needed. This strained and stressful journey does not conclude with happiness but with a greater awareness.
Forever continues at Long Wharf Theatre's Stage II through February 1st, 2015. For tickets, call the box office at (203) 787-4282 or visit www.longwharf.org.
- Fred Sokol