BLACK n BLUE/BROKEN MEN at Berkeley Rep heart stopping

BLACK n BLUE/BROKEN MEN: Dramatic monolog by Dael Orlandersmith. Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley. (510) 647-2949.

BLACK n BLUE/BROKEN MEN at Berkeley Rep heart stopping

Berkeley has earned the reputation as probably the most liberal city and University in the Country. If there is a new cause to be espoused, the Berkeley-ites come out in droves and are very vocal in doing so. Berkeley Rep has inherited some of those traits and has been a leader in producing shows with social implications and cutting edge daring. They have done it again with the mounting of Dael Orlandersmith’s grim, gritty, brutal Black n Blue Boys / Broken Men. They wisely have not included an intermission for this 95 minute monolog since the subject matter and physical staging would certainly create a partial exodus from the theater.

Sixty year old Orlandersmith is highly respected auteur having earned the honor of a Pulitzer Prize nomination for her Yellow Man play that was stunningly produced at Berkeley Rep in 2004. Black n Blue is a world premiere produced in conjunction with Goodman Theatre in Chicago. They are in for a shock when it does arrive.

In this non-autobiographical monolog all the characters she portrays are young men who have suffered emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Apparently their stories are derived from her experience as a black social worker in New York City where she was brought up in poverty and escaped by gaining an education and graduating from Hunter College.

If you are attending the show to be entertained, forget it. The stories will have you leaning into the back of your seat to get as far away from the stage as possible. Yes, the stories are so graphic to be distressing and heartbreaking. Dressed in non-descript black with a hairdo resembling the Medusa she attempts to morph into six abused boys of various ages and their adult counterpart leading to their existence as broken men destined to inflict abuse on others.

Orlandersmith is a good actor (the program lists her as an actress) and her demeanor is probably purposely androgynous. The change from Puerto Rican, to Irish to African American and others is indistinctly realized with some attempts being better than others. However the trauma inflicted upon each character is indelible.

The most well developed character is Flaco, a Puerto Rican whose home life has been sexual abuse by his mother (no that is not a typo) who is losing her mentality. No one will believe him; “because mothers just don’t do that.” He describes life as one big hustle and after being shunted through 11 group homes, he, at age 15, becomes an effective male hustler going from bad to worse with life on the streets. His rape by an affluent John is too graphic for description.

Probably the most pathetic story is by Mike, who is a “trick baby” (a child born by a prostitute with one of her “tricks”) in a family of seven who apparently rises above his upbringing but he is what his past has created and breaks down reverting to physical violence to solve a social problem.

Orlandersmith is out of her depth with an Irish accent but she still manages to bring the horrific realization of physical abuse of a child that carries into the next generation. That child, Ian, is brought back to the stage as an adult with terrifying intensity. Timmy, an 11-year-old, is probably Orlandersmith’s mouthpiece when he wonders where God is. He has to live with a junkie mother with her plethora of horrible boyfriends. There is no doubt about the source of his downward social degeneration.

The characterization that is most appalling is Tenny who in a well mannered voice justifies his motivation for being a pedophile who has buggered his own pre-teen nephew. Orlandersmith brings Tenny back onto the stage to follow his treatment in prison. If you are not aware of what happens to pedophiles in prison, you will be fully aware after attending this show.

That brings up the question, should this reviewer give Orlanersmith’s solo opus thumbs up? In its present form it is a work in progress and I am certain the author/performer and the talented director Chay Yew will smooth out the rough spots. However, be reminded that the subject matter, quoting Harold Ross former editor of the new Yorker, ““not edited for the old lady in Dubuque.”

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of Theatreworld Internet Magazine