Review: “In the Penal Colony” at New York Theater Workshop’s 4th Street Theater

Featured: Dhari Noel, Jamar Brathwaite, and David Glover. Photo by: Erica B. Sneider

Featured: Dhari Noel, Jamar Brathwaite, and David Glover. Photo by: Erica B. Sneider

  • Max Berry, Contributing Critic - New York City

Written and directed by Miranda Haymon, “In the Penal Colony” acts as  an abstract representation of the repeated and cruel punishment that people of color have experienced throughout history into today. In this play three black men come together in an unnamed penal colony. In this colony a man, known as the Officer, is showing off a machine to a Traveler that he uses to continuously punish and control a man known only as “The Condemned”. 

The prologue of this play was immediately striking. It set the abstract tone of the piece perfectly, showcasing the pain and punishment that not only the three characters were facing, but the pain of punishment that all people of color have faced and continue to face. It is clear that the dance was very carefully choreographed and each image created is clear, strong, and powerful.

When the main story begins, we really get a clear picture of the world that Haymon has created. It’s strange and frightening but in many ways, underneath all of the strangeness, familiar. That is what Haymon excelled at in this play, building a startling new world from reality’s foundations. This play is also very well paced. In moments like the prologue, everything is very rapid and urgent. We as the audience feel this urgency and are immediately put into a state of unease, but then the play stops cold on a few moments, forcing us to watch every excruciating second of what’s taking place. In most shows this would begin to get boring. However, “In the Penal Colony” takes these moments as opportunities for us to see the cruelty inflicted upon these characters as well as make the connections to the world we live in.

All three actors navigate the strange world of the play really well. The command the stage from the moment the prologues unsettling dance routine begins and hold your attention until the end. The hold on to the reality of the world while simultaneously making us believe the abstract aspects of it. 

“In the Penal Colony” is not a play that you can fully absorb minutes after the curtain closes. This is a play that sinks in to your skin and stays there. A play that you feel before you even know why. Twenty-four hours after seeing the show, there are still things that I am working to uncover. Things I know made me uncomfortable and now I have to work out the exact reasons why. The answers aren’t pretty and I don’t think they are supposed to be. They’re answers that are gonna spark change. Re-thinking. And hopefully revolution. 

 

“In the Penal Colony” was written and directed by Miranda Haymon.

It was produced by The Hodgepodge Group and Lucy Powis

It features: Jamar Brathwaite, David Glover, and Dhari Noel

With set design by Emmie Finckel

Lighting design by Cha See

And sound design by Valentine Monfeuga

It runs from July 11-28 at New York Theatre Worskshops Fourth Street Theatre (79 East 4th Street between Bowery and 2nd Avenue, New York, NY 10003).

For more information and to purchase tickets go to: https://www.nytw.org/show/in-the-penal-colony/?utm_campaign=1524868_Pre%20Show%20-%20Penal%20Colony&utm_medium=email&utm_source=New%20York%20Theatre%20Workshop&dm_t=0,0,0,0,0