Anthony J. Piccione
- New York Theatre Critic
It was my fourth day of reviewing shows at the Downtown Urban Arts Festival, and once again, I was treated to not one, but two, shows during the same performance slot. Not unlike the last time I was here, there was one play that was clearly better than the other, but that was not the only difference that I noticed on this night.
The evening started off weak, with the relatively mediocre one-act Blood Orange by Marcus Scott, directed by Justin Schwartz, and starring Schuyler Van Amson, Tommy Walters, and Sunny Choi. The basic premise seems ripe for both comedy and the exploration of certain social issues: An interracial gay couple gets together, and one half attempts to celebrate an anniversary by setting up a threesome. Unfortunately, the play is short on laugh lines, drags on at times, and occasionally feels – particularly toward the beginning – that it is trying to portray sexuality simply for the sake of portraying it. The truly awful part of this production, however, is the lackluster acting. Mr. Choi seems slightly more in character, but for the most part, the acting was on par with that of a high school drama club with little more experience in theatre. While many actors can often be good despite the fact that they are given a play that they can’t do much to improve, a play is always reliant on the actors being good in order to succeed on stage, which appears to be the main problem here.
Thankfully, after getting through that, I saw the highlight of the evening: Mirrors by Azure D. Osborne-Lee and directed by Kirya Traber. In a sharp contrast with the last play, this is a poignant and heartbreaking full-length drama – albeit with more than a few funny moments of dialogue – about a young black woman named Alma Jean whose mother passes away, and then goes to live with a mysterious, long-lost friend of her late mother named Bird Wilson. Over the course of the play, as they both grapple with this new reality, more is gradually revealed about themselves and about the deceased parent, ultimately building toward an emotional plot twist toward the climax, although by the time the audience gets there, there’s plenty of material that is bound to leave the average theatergoer on the verge of tears.
The cast – consisting of Crystal Lucas-Perry (Bird Wilson), AnnMarie Sykes (Alma Jean Pierson), La Rivers (Annabelle “Belle” Pierson), Joyia D. Bradley (Constance Jenkins), AnJu Hyppolite (Mabel Mosley), Jordan Randolph (Louise Sterling) and Jak Watson (Ray Johnson Jr.) – couldn’t have done a better job at capturing the raw emotions of the characters, and portraying the dark reality that they live in. Ms. Lucas-Perry’s performance, in particular, is deeply powerful and is a big part of what makes this show so memorable.
So while the gap in quality wasn’t quite as large, it was still noticeable, and it was truly bizarre to see a well-written full-length play and a mediocre one-act play in the same time slot. I would certainly hope that if Mx. Osborne-Lee’s play is performed again, it gets the chance to have its own performance slot to itself, as I feel it deserves it, and is a play that I certainly would be recommending to readers, if only there were more performance dates. It’ll be interesting to see what the rest of this festival has to offer.
“Blood Orange” and “Mirrors” each ran for one night only at the Downtown Urban Arts Festival on April 25th. For more information on upcoming events at this festival, please visit www.duafnyc.com.