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Theater Thu Oct 18 2012
Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men, written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith (pictured) and directed by Chay Yew, runs September 29 - October 28, 2012 at Goodman Theatre.
Hanna Rosin caused a storm of controversy with her book The End of Men (and the Rise of Women). Chicago writer Michael Miner followed up with his essay, "Death of a Cowboy," both authors surmising and theorizing why men may very well be obsolete, counter-productive to life, their endangerment probably a good thing if life for our planet and the women on it is to be further sustained.
Now comes Dael Orlandersmith, lighted torch in-hand, setting fire to the Goodman stage, acting as Medium in speaking the words of boys and men, from different points on the globe, channeling the fear and loathing (both self and environment) of those boys-to-men, and turning Rosin and Miner's missives into present day historical anthropology -- it's reality, and we're sifting through the rubble, searching for fragments of the human male.
To say Orlandersmith is a force of nature does not do justice to her writing and stage presence; Orlandersmith extends the conversation started with Anna Deavere Smith's Fires in the Mirror and Twilight: Los Angeles, and reminds us that we refuse to be warned, to listen, to take heed, to change the circumstances that makes a boy's life suck, ensuring that he will grow up doomed to repeat the cycle over again, until we shrug up our collective shoulders and nod in agreement that boys are the problem, and their "not being around anymore" may be the only solution.
Orlandersmith "boys" are sired and born into poverty, and each experiences physical and verbal abuse, a few experience sexual abuses at the hands of close relatives and strangers. Not only do they suffer for it, most times they're punished for it; going about their lives punishing themselves and others; heaping the same abuse on those tragic souls that reach out to deliver love and acceptance to them -- repeating the cycle, made more tragic by their own words knowing that they're doing grievous damage to others as was done to them, but not knowing how not to. Conditioning and familiarity trumps empathy practically every single time, even if what one is familiar with is a monstrosity.
All of Orlandersmith's characters take something from you and give something back. Their stories are heartbreaking, and to get through the pain of hearing their stories, you have to numb yourself, probably as the characters have had to numb themselves, in order to survive their own heart-wrenching experiences.
There is Ian from Manchester, almost-perpetually beaten and put down by his drunken father, a man with nothing to offer his children when sober, and the fists of a deranged pugilist after spending too much time and money in the local club. Ian escapes the no-promise land to West End London, and then on to New York City and a life of upper middle class certainty, but he is still Ian. There is Terrence, AKA "Tenny," a caring, sensitive working class guy from Long Island, who for whatever reason, cannot fight, does not want to fight the pederast monster within, and ruins his own life and horrifically changes the course of his young nephew.
Plaxco is introduced to sex by his schizophrenic mother, and is caught up in a system so Kafkaesque, he winds up marked as a sexual predator along with her. After running from numerous group homes, he works the streets of New York as a prostitute. All of 13 years old, wise and broken beyond his years, he still dreams of getting to the shores of Puerto Rico described to him by his ineffectual father just a few short years before.
The other boys' stories are equally absorbing and enlightening, but Orlandersmith's one-woman, equal parts fire- and ice storm must be seen, a performance to be absorbed, to be haunted by, to follow up and follow-through, to reach and save a whole wide world of Lost Boys of every shade and place.
Orlandersmith's performance is a tour de force and its subject matter a force that all of us will soon reckon with. BnBB/BM is a Do Not Miss.
Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men runs through Oct. 28 at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., directed by Chay Yew, written & performed by Dael Orlandersmith. Tickets and more information can be found on the Goodman website.