Monday, May 4, 2015

Forever @ the New York Theatre Workshop

Forever, a poignant semi-autobiographical piece written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith at New York Theatre Workshop, is a harrowing yet somehow uplifting piece on the family you are given, the family you make, and how not one of them ever truly leaves you.

Forever is a stream of thoughts which follow Orlandersmith’s journey through her life, focusing primarily on her oft drunk and always complicated mother. Orlandersmith passionately and eloquently details her abuse, her growth, the lessons she’s learned, and her journey from a young girl into a woman.  She speaks to the greats who most believe are lost (Morrison, Balzac, Piaf, and many others) and encourages the audience to listen for their voices.  She encourages you to believe that those who have died are always there, watching, interacting, whispering to you.  If you let yourself become comfortable, you will believe with her, and the journey through Forever will be all the more rewarding.

Vital to bringing the entire piece together is Orlandersmith’s powerful performance.  The version of herself she presents is brutally honest and open, but somehow still battling for that confidence to which she’s already laid claim. She finds a way to engage and mystify the audience as she weaves her tale through monologues, starting at the Pere Lachaise cemetery, trekking through Harlem, and back to the cemetery, where she converses with those who have gone before. At points, Orlandersmith evokes her mother so strongly you can almost smell the scotch and cigarettes, even though she’s been dead since 1989.

Though at times tough to listen to, Forever brings a realness and power to the stage through Orlandersmith’s words and performance that makes it, unlike anything you’re likely to see in any other theater.  The wide-open set (designed by Takeshi Kata), adorned with photos of her and her mother’s past, brings you into Orlandersmith’s world, where she welcomes you with open arms.  The invitation to post notes on the walls in honor of those who are gone but still touch your life allows you to become a part of a shared world, where the dead still have voices.

Overall, Forever is a dark but touching piece about the ways people can touch your life, even long after they’ve passed.  It is powerful, engrossing and thought provoking, and not to be missed.
Orlandersmith’s journey has the capacity to both touch and break hearts and connect to audience members on a deeply personal level, and that’s exactly what makes it such a unique journey, and one worth taking.

Review By: Jacob R. Hines

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