Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Also see Fred's review of The Comedy of Errors
Kenyatta (Tony Todd) is a father and a man who is desperate to get his hands on letters now held by his daughter Nina (Brittany Bellizeare). They were written by Kenyatta's estranged wife/Nina's mother, a woman who has died. Kenyatta, who, for years, fought hard against injustices suffered by African Americans, is desperate. He says so in short monologues delivered at the edge of the stage to the audience. Nina, unfortunately, will deal drugs and rob men on the street. She is named for Nina Simone and, every so often, a tune such as the poignant "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair" is played.
Nina's relationship with her father is convoluted. She also has a boyfriend named Damon (Carlton Byrd). She and Damon, far from compatible, grapple hard with one another. Damon is pretty slick, articulates his philosophy and, for the most part, thinks a great deal of himself.
Nina and her father scream at one another often. She does not trust him and cares not that he was once a revolutionary who, along with his wife, lived and breathed activist lives. Nina is about herself and survival.
Kenyatta is aggressive and his words are blunt but not especially intriguing. Damon is more complex as he references concepts of the sociologist Steven Spitzer. Yet it is difficult to conjure some sympathy for himor for anyone here.
Yes, the intensity of the father and daughter non-bond is glaring. Nina, now, is a thief. Kenyatta, who walked away from his daughter's life when she was a little girl, is back. Damon has a son (unseen) of his own.
Sunset Baby is marked by disconnects. It addresses both the personal and the political. Bellizeare, as Nina, is oftentimes fittingly blazing and hostile. This is a viscerally angry young woman and the actress gets it right. She cannot get a handle on her emotions; she cannot empathize. Byrd's Damon is argumentative and he actualizes the script's confrontations. Tony Todd spent much of his youth in Hartford. With a number of impressive screen and stage credits, he now returns. His Kenyatta is loud, blaring, and driven to get those letters. The man is not multi-dimensional but single minded. It is hard to discern whether Todd's depiction is through actor choice or if he has been prodded.
Set designer Alexander Woodward brings us to a project dwelling in New York City. It is a run down place. Karen Perry's costuming is appropriate, inclusive of Nina's outfits and wig which, given her character traits, are perfect choices. Reginald L. Douglas directs, and his interpretation is straight ahead. There isn't any nuance to this production. Playwright Dominique Morisseau has said about this work that "It is about love." The show is in almost immediate high gear and there is not a great deal of variance through its 90-minute running time.
Sunset Baby continues at TheaterWorks in Hartford, Connecticut through February 19th, 2017. For tickets, call (860) 527-7838 or visit theaterworkshartford.org.