BWW Review: Aziza Barnes' Fast and Furiously Funny BLKS Follows Three Friends on a Crazy Night
There's a scene in poet-turned-playwright Aziza Barnes' fast and furiously funny debut stage piece, BLKS, where the main characters, a trio of black Brooklyn women in their 20s -- "out on a mission to resurrect our fly back" -- find themselves at the corner of Prince Street and Broadway, where the N,R subway station entrance displays the faces of Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in an ad for their Netflix comedy series, "Grace and Frankie," a show about two women who are there for each other during life's rough patches. In another time, the station might have shown an ad for "Girls" or "Sex and The City," or any other such high-profile program where the default setting for the women who stick together is white.
Barnes has expressed in interviews that she holds no resentment for such programs. She's just out to dramatize how such scenarios exist in the world she knows. And while BLKS does take a breather every now and then to recognize the real world everyday tragedies out there (There's a violent encounter involving a drunk woman who's with a man who appears to be out to rape her and a mention of the most recent occurrences of unarmed black people being shot by police.) BLKS is aggressively, and very enjoyably, comic. This older white male reviewer won't claim to have gotten every reference, but still found it a formidable blast of the power that emerges from the bonds of friendship, as did his theater companion who fits more snugly into the demographics depicted on stage.
Of course, it helps that MCC's production is directed by Robert O'Hara, an expert at presenting serious issues pertaining to African-Americans packaged in wrappings of over-the-top reality. Working with designer Clint Ramos' turntable-mounted set, O'Hara achieves exceptionally fluid staging that allows us to view scenes from various angles of different rooms.
This is especially useful in the opening moments, when the audience can hear the loudly enthusiastic sexual activity between screenwriter Octavia (hyper-energized Paige Gilbert) and her girlfriend/filmmaking collaborator Ry (Coral Peña) in the former's Bushwick apartment. After Octavia rushes from her bedroom, through the living room, to the bathroom, she discovers, while seated on the toilet, a suspicious mole on her clitoris that she wants her lover to inspect.
Ry's reluctance results in her getting kicked out, but fortunately roommate Imani (stylish and savvy Alfie Fuller), a stand-up comic developing an act that's her own interpretation of material from Eddie Murphy's "Raw," is there to help. They share the apartment with June (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy as the grounded one who's cracking inside), an accounting consultant who has just found a used condom in a Popeye's box at her serial-cheating boyfriend's apartment.
After scheduling the possibly-cancerous mole's removal, Octavia insists her pals join her for a night where she can find someone to help her take advantage of what might be her last night with a fully-sensitive clitoris.
Imani will be trying out her act at the Nuyorican Poets Café that night, but first they head for a club where they meet a character identified by the playwright as "That Bitch on the Couch" (Marié Botha), a white woman who, at first, annoys Imani with her questions about the microaggressions she's afraid she might accidentally be committing. But the stand-up also thinks she's kinda cute and she decides to help teach her a bit about masking her privilege. But just when things start getting intimate between them, an issue arises involving hair.
Meanwhile a seemingly sweet fellow named Justin (Chris Myers) comes to June's rescue with a quick repair when her heel breaks. He winds up following her back to Bushwick but is intercepted by Octavia, who determines him capable of filling her pre-procedure prescription.
Needless to say, there's a good deal of drinking and pot-smoking fueling BLKS' antics, and if the craziness seems a bit frivolous at times, that may be the point.
"I'm not interested in writing people who are miserable and sad," says Barnes. "I'm interested in people who run from it, creatively, until they can't anymore."
So perhaps the serious message behind BLKS is that there's no healthier way to deal with the dirty luck life hands you than to unapologetically dive head-first into a good time.