Arts & Events

EYE FROM THE AISLE: Black at Blue Boys at Berkeley Rep--virtuoso performance, desperate circumstances

By John A. McMullen II
Friday June 08, 2012 - 11:05:00 AM
Dael Orlandersmith
Dael Orlandersmith

BERKELEY REP offers another fascinating virtuoso performance with Dael Orlandersmith in her original BLACK AND BLUE BOYS/BROKEN MEN. In 90 minutes, she masterfully portrays many characters who were abused as children and their resulting anger and intimacy issues as adults.

Orlandersmith created this show after becoming a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize with Yellowman in 2002.

She switches accents masterfully, gives each character a distinct physical presence and fitting expressive gestures, and her monologues are spellbinding.

Directed by Obie award winner Chaw Yew, the play is a series of interwoven stories that are important to hear to emotionally understand what might seem irrational behavior we encounter or read about. As the twig is bent…and exposure to these debasements could twist anyone. 

There is Flaco, the Puerto Rican child then teenager who is molested and no one believes him; Ian, the Irish boy who changes his accents and rises high to escape the torment of his drunken, berating father; of Mike, the “trick baby” in a household of one-mother-many-fathers. There are knife-wielding mothers, disbelieving social workers, intimately chilling details of beatings and haranguings done to the children and what the children do to their loved-ones when they grow up. 

Ms. Orlandersmith changes accents from Irish to Contemporary Londoner, to Bronx to Barrio to Ghetto and more with precision. 

It is similar to the format of Anna Deavere Smith’s performances AS IN Fires in the Mirror, Twilight: Los Angeles, or Let Me Down Easy, which the Rep presented a year ago. 

After 90 minutes of childhood horror stories from children of psycho or drunk parents or well-meaning pedophiles and the repercussions INTO ADULTHOOD [as adults], our pathos and patience is tested and “anesthesia of the heart” can set in. In the post-show audience exodus, there were many comments about exhaustion. 

It is set on a bare stage downlit with many of those old-time institutional hanging LIGHT fixtures. Our playwright/narrator/actor of all characters is dressed in black. There is one chair. We have only Orlandersmith’s evocative words and her expert characterizations. It is a mesmerizing tale, the lighting design changes the scene, the sound supports it, but there is the hazard of lulling the audience with the practically colorless palate and the single speaker. Perhaps we drift as a subconscious escape from the barrage of the degradation and harm that is done every day to children. 


World Premiere 

Written and Performed by Dael Orlandersmith 

Directed by Chay Yew 

A Co-Production with Goodman Theatre 

Berkeley Repertory Theatre 

Thrust Stage 

2025 Addison St, Berkeley 

Through June 24, 2012 

Daniel Ostling, Scenic Design/ Anita Yavich, Costume Design/Ben Stanton, Lighting Design/Mikhail Fiksel, Sound Design/ Madeleine Oldham, Dramaturg/ Lynne Soffer, Dialect Coach/ Leslie M. Radin, Stage Manager/ Stephanie Buchner, Associate Lighting Designer