Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
America v. 2.1: The Sad Demise & Eventual Extinction of the American Negro
Also see Fred's review of Waitress
Certainly satirical, America v. 2.1 finds four actors (play within a play here) who must perform again and again with the same lines. This is, for them, both wearing and exasperating. Donavan (Ansa Akyea), leader and facilitator, issues instruction to sweet-singing Grant (Jordan Barrow), angry Jeffery (Peterson Townsend) and Leigh (Kalyne Coleman), the only woman on stage. Every so often, Donavan listens as what is evidently a white voice (Peggy Pharr Wilson), from above or afar, issues instructions.
It's all about the real and honest hurdles and obstacles black people have had to either leap over or elude in order to stand a chance of gaining equal footing in this country. Rose, however, deliberately scrambles names of some personages, such as Rosa Sparks, Donald Reagan, Jesus Christ Lincoln, and many more. One recognizes the combination, for example, of Bill Clinton and Bill Cosby fused into one individual (Akyea has this part), but the portrayals are almost always exaggerated and/or stretched to a limit which does approach absurdity. It is all told from a vantage point which is, perhaps, a few years forward from 2019.
The primary messages are clear: this group of actors is overworked and conflicted; and their experiences as black performers compromise them. They can be separated from those they love and they might not ever find themselves fulfilled. Still, when observing these proceedings assumes that all is bleak and negative, the playwright offers glimmers of hope. Perhaps it is possible to wage a winning battle against the ruling class. If so, subservience in society might be eradicated. If you wish, this is a play about freedom. Turning over that symbolic coin, it is about slavery. The irony of watching such gifted actors portray characters those whose work requirements and schedules are oppressive is not lost.
The production highlights multiple genres, including spoken word, music and movement. Rose's actualized script is energized and Boseman's choreography is crisp and sharp. The creative duo is fortunate to work with actors who are athletic and able to execute, when it applies, in unison.
All of the actors are convincing. The exceptional Barrow, trained in musical theater, hits all the high notes without the slightest indication of strain. It's easy to imagine him singing almost any melody and racing up an octave to do so. Akyea's Donavan is a man in charge of the troupe, but he knows that his is not the ultimate voice.
Scenic designer Jack Magaw shows a couple of backstage clothing hooks and garments on either side of the stage. No ornamental scenic pieces clutter up space. This is all about opening up the stage for actors. Ntokozo Fuzunina Kunene's costume choices are entirely suitable and help set a tone.
America v. 2.1 will cause many a theatergoer to squirm even while laughing just a bit at an exchange on stage. The sad truth is that the American Negro has already been targeted with extinction, so that condition (as described in the play's title) is not so much eventual. Rose, through her pen or laptop, writes a commentary which is lively and soul-searching, too. It bids anyone watching to think two or three times and then consider, while driving away, the implications.
America v. 2.1: The Sad Demise of the American Negro, through June 30, 2019, at Barrington Stage Company, St. Germain Stage, 30 Union St., Pittsfield MA. For information and tickets, visit barringtonstageco.org or call 413-236-8888.