Black N Blue Boys/ Broken Men written by Dael Orlandersmith, directed by Chay Yew at Berkeley Rep through June 24, 2012
I'd just completed my grades for the semester and wanted to celebrate. I am on the do not call, certainly do not notify about our season for Berkeley Rep, so after requests for tickets was ignored by the publicist, I decided to go anyway.
As I pulled up on Addison, I noticed a car pulling off and low and behold, there was a parking spot, directly across from the main theatre. Not only that, as I stood in the line to purchase a cheap ticket ($29.00) a man asked me if I would like a ticket. I said yes and found myself seated in the second row center stage. It was the best seat I have ever sat in and I have been in this theatre more times than I can remember.
My new friend and I chatted about the Met and how when he was a young man he'd stand in the front of the theatre where older patrons would give him and others tickets and they'd find themselves seated in the first row of the opera house. I thought that was pretty amazing!
I was surprised that he didn't know about Stern Grove, hadn't seen Orlandersmith's Yellowman which Berkeley Rep produced and I saw again in Johannesburg, nor had he seen any of the productions at Opera San Jose. He didn't know Eve Ensler either, whose latest work, I Am an Emotional Creature is coming next to the Rep, June 15.
When the lights fell on the stage, empty except for hanging lanterns and a chair, the actress walked out and began several starkly solitary interlocking tales of deprivation and despair. After the third story I stopped looking for a reprieve or hope. I put my hand over my chest and held on.
Strangely, the victims here are all boys and the villains are male and female, in the first tale we meet a child whose mother is mentally ill, yet the father in denial, condemns his son who is molested by his mother. Puerto Rican, the dad dreams of his island which he'll probably never see as his children are shipwrecked in a home which frightens them.
We meet many big brothers responsible for smaller siblings whom they try to protect often distracting the sibling from parental misconduct. Physical and debilitating emotional abuse, drugs, death, pedophilia. . . are just several of the stock scenes and sets these children scale and ride on across the low expectations their mothers and fathers project onto their children. It is a bit much listening to a child talk about how with the $400 he got from a trick, he can get a room. . . never mind the bloody anus he has to bandage. The child is just 11. Then we meet a child who is so sad he wants to kill himself as he asks, "Where is God?"
We meet wealthy parents who are unusually cruel to their children. Mothers who do not stand up to their husbands and when they do, they are beaten. We see alcoholism and drug addiction and the children who try to live lives outside the poor examples set by their guardians who abandon ships which sink carrying their children below into murky depths.
These black and blue boys have their souls ripped out--trapped, there is no escape as safety nets are cut and the innocent fall through.
Yes, it is that depressing. . . the only glimmer of hope is quickly dashed as adults realize broken boys grow up to be broken men.
The writing is compelling even poetic. . . it is the reality network show in make believe. The problem is we know these children. We know their parents. The pedophile is Uncle Bob.
In the facilitated conversation after the show one patron asked if these are the children who populate the prison system. We suggested she read Michele Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. I should have also mentioned: Tim Wise's latest: Dear White America.
In Black N Blue Boys we see the resilience of human spirit buoyed by the hope these boys call on, reach deep inside to grab to pull them through the horrific trauma they cannot completely eradicate alone.
These are tragic tales higher education, material success and wealth cannot cure. Prevention is the antidote; if we could just prevent the harm we, American society, could save multiple generations.
When I left the theatre I looked down at the poem along the "Berkeley Poetry Walk" directly in front of the theatre doors near the curb. It was a quote from Bertolt Brecht. In it he says that one can change the ending or try to change the ending of the play. I had to smile, reflecting on Audre Lorde and her biomythology. . . . How could I change the open endings on most of the stories Orlandersmith tells?
The boys are not all grown when she leaves them for us to adopt or leave. I want to tell the social worker to self-publish. I want to see what happens to the boy who leaves jump rope for football. Is he having fun or just getting by until he can leave his master's house? Where is his mother? Is his father the man who picks up another character and sodomizes him? Is this the reason for the hyper-masculinity?
I wonder about the baby who loves to swim and ice cream cones in the winter. What will this early trauma do to him? Will his parents get the help for him he will need to mend the riff in his trust?
I wonder about the child, whom I thought was a girl whose mother's neglect leaves her/him empty inside, so empty the child wants to die.
I wonder about the Irish businessman who has it all, yet remains broken inside. Is he going to get therapy?
Unless cured or at least helped into wholeness, these men cannot help but break the spirits of other blue boys and the blue boys-- they will grow to be broken men.