Review: “Strings” at the Downtown Urban Arts Festival

Anthony J. Piccione

  • New York Theatre Critic

This tumultuous decade has largely been marked by a rise in racially motivated shootings, which often are followed up by the perpetrators walking away free without any consequences, even as such violence and bigotry continues to escalate. As a result, it makes sense that more and more people are waking up to issues of the criminal justice system in America, and in particular, how the system is biased against people of color. They are the same issues that Strings, which recently ran at the Downtown Urban Arts Festival, explores in an unapologetically raw and honest way.

Written and directed by Charles Curtis, the play tells the story of a black detective turned vigilante who is now facing possible execution for his action, and a white lawyer who has been assigned to his case. Over the course of the play, the two exchange recollections of their own past and background, vividly describing various stories in their seemingly different lives that show how they each got to where they are in life, ultimately culminating with a somewhat surprising twist which occurs toward the end of the play.

Staged in a minimalistic fashion, the play is performed wonderfully by actors SJ Hannah and Leighton Samuels, who portray the prisoner and lawyer, respectively. Each of them does a particularly excellent job at telling the stories that do not take place onstage, but are still told through the dialogue and leave little to the imagination for the audience, to the point where they left this theatergoer gasping at various points. It takes truly gifted actors to pull off such poignant storytelling in a convincing manner, and I applaud them both for doing that.

I also applaud Mr. Curtis for writing what is a very powerful script with a captivating dynamic between these two individuals. Issues of race and culture are ones that have been explored greatly in theatre, particularly in recent years, but rarely do I come across a play that is as brutally honest about the way the system is rigged against minorities, and the many social and economic hardships that non-whites still face today in society, as a play such as this. We need more plays such as this, and I hope that this one performance won’t be the last we see of this show, in the future…

“Strings” ran for one night only at the Downtown Urban Arts Festival on April 19th. For more information on upcoming events at this festival, please visit