Review: THE BREAKFAST AT THE BOOKSTORE at KARAMU

Karma stages the world premiere of THE BREAKFAST AT THE BOOKSTORE

By: Feb. 02, 2024
Review: THE BREAKFAST AT THE BOOKSTORE at KARAMU

Lisa Langford, the author of THE BREAKFAST AT THE BOOKSTORE, which is getting its world premiere at Karamu, the nation’s oldest African American theater, is a Cleveland based actress and playwright.  

This script won the Pittsburgh Public Theatre’s 2022 New Play Contest.  

The play, which contains adult language, sexual suggestiveness, and descriptions of violence, is set in a Glenville storefront in 1973. 
 
The tale centers on Dot, who wants to be an activist and support the Black liberation movement by opening a revolutionary bookstore which will serve free breakfasts to the local people.  A conflict centers on the opposition of her common-law husband and a former Black nationalist, who is opposed to the idea.

Why Dot had this strong drive to give out free breakfasts is not clearly developed in the script, which is divided into 12 scenes, and is often short on clarity and references which might clarify for the viewer.  

The play also lacks meaning, for example, if the viewer does not know, as the program indicates, that “UFO traditions are closely related to Black supernatural traditions.  For African Americans, generally, the supernatural isn’t spooky:  ancestors hang around, they help us.   [The supernatural] gives them a sense of meaning in the concrete world in a way that allows them to re-envision who they are to empower themselves in a world they see as against them.”  
 
Though long-term locals may know, but newbies or those not from the area will not be aware, is that in 1968 the Glenville Uprising took place.
 
As the program notes indicate: “For several hours, gunfire engulfed the Black neighborhood of Glenville [located along the East 105th corridor between Euclid and St. Clair Avenues]. The Black Nationalists of New Libya exchanged shots with the Cleveland Police Department from the apartments and homes.  By the end of the night, seven men had been killed, including three police officers, three black nationalists, and one civilian.  Several houses in the Glenville neighborhood were on fire and at least 15 individuals were injured.” 
 
Nina Dominque, the play’s director, in her “Director’s Note” states: “Dot represents all the young people trying to find their place in activist spaces.” 
 
The cast, Dar’Jon Bentley (Haywood), Mariah Burks (Dot on the night I saw the show), Carolyn Demanelis (Fran) and Prophet Seay (Sharpe) were excellent in developing the characters they were given to play.  

The set, lights, costumes and sound all aided in developing the production.

Capsule judgment:  According to the program notes, Dot, the fulcrum around which the plot circulates, “represents the next generation of freedom fighters who refuse to be restricted by binaries and demand that we acknowledge their full humanity in all its complexity.”  Oh, if that were only true, and the playwright made this clearer in her writing.  As is, I doubt whether that erudite message was what many in the audience garnered from the presentation.

THE BREAKFAST AT THE BOOKSTORE runs January 26-February 18, 2024 at Karamu.  For tickets call 216-795-7077 or go to karamuhouse.org

Next up: March 8-31, 2024, IT HAPPENED IN ATLANTA--—As four college friends from Cleveland come together for their 20th college reunion weekend they are forced to wrestle with what happened in Atlanta.




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