Entertainment » Theatre

Sunset Baby

by Louise Adams
Friday Feb 5, 2016
Nina (AnJi White, left) and her boyfriend Damon (Kelvin Roston Jr.)
Nina (AnJi White, left) and her boyfriend Damon (Kelvin Roston Jr.)  

Dominique Morrisseau's fearless, intermissionless "Sunset Baby," directed by Ron OJ Parson, gives African-American disenfranchisement, as well as activism then and now, a fresh and savvy perspective, alongside TimeLine's always well-curated lobby display (dramaturgy by Jared Bellot).

The triumvirate of a black revolutionary, once imprisoned Kenyatta (Phillip Edward Van Lear), his smart street hustling daughter Nina (after Ms. Simone, played by AnJi White), and her drug-dealing boyfriend Damon (Kelvin Roston, Jr.) dominate the rundown Brooklyn tenement apartment (designed by Regina Garcia) as they ferociously defend their oppositional agendas.

Nina wants to hold on to her past by keeping her dead mother's letters (for which academics and historians are offering top dollar) from her estranged, mostly absent father; Kenyatta wants to reconnect and resolve his fatherly role; while streetwise Damon wants to make a better life for himself and his girlfriend, but doesn't know how.

Among performed and projected interstitials by Kenyatta explaining his actions and petitioning for forgiveness, Nina rails against her filial obligations and maintains that, although her father conceived her to grow the next generation of revolutionaries, she considers him merely a mercenary "sperm donor." She says that now her mother Ashanti X has died from drug use, "I'm a mystery to everyone else."

She clings to the sometimes-abusive Damon because he's the only family she has left. He's the Clyde to her Bonnie, the Ice Cube to her Yo-Yo, but he's angry that Nina, whom he thinks is bi-polar as well as a "sentimental bitch," has a chance to make money for their future, a planned escape to Europe, but doesn't; that his baby mama Renee won't let him see their son DJ; that kids "play by stupid rules" and throw shoes over telephone wires without knowing why anymore.

Damon longs to rise from "social junk," criminologist Steven Spritzer's term for those who have fallen through the cracks and become dependent, to "social dynamite," those at society's bottom that still rebel against this perceived failure.

Kenyatta is drawn to his daughter as well as to the letters she hides, but is frustrated as she "talks too much" instead of wanting or finding a resolution, and he remembers that "revolution is the man in the mirror."

In this runaway train of a play (that simultaneously takes its time to set scenes and moods), the trio indefatigably illuminates Morriseau's mediation on the "new age underground railroad" to reach African-American enlightenment in a predominantly white world (and a white-headed Sunday matinee audience).

But it's hard because "there's a lot of educated idiots out there, and most of them are running the country."

"Sunset Baby" runs through April 10 at TimeLine Theatre Company, 615 W. Wellington Ave., Chicago, IL. For tickets and information, call 773-281-8463 or visit www.timelinetheatre.com

Louise Adams is a writer, actor, educator, yogini and nom de guerre. @MzzzAnthrope


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