BWW Review: SCRAPS Examines the Aftermath of Racially-Motivated Violence on Those Left Behind
The magic of live theater stems from the experience of witnessing a story being told that affects not only the visual, but the intellectual and emotional parts of you as well. It's that shared time with others sitting in the dark, reacting together or remaining silent together, which transports you into worlds you could never have imagined on your own. From the moment I walked into the Matrix Theatre on Melrose and was engulfed into the gritty realism of a Brooklyn street scene set designed to perfection by John Iacovelli and impeccably lit by Brian Gale & Zo Haynes, I knew the next 90 minutes were going to open my eyes and heart to an extraordinary experience.
But it was the opening prologue of SCRAPS, masterfully performed by Tyrin Niles as Jean-Baptiste Delacroix sitting on the front stoop of his Brooklyn brownstone, that captured my attention and took me inside his close-knit neighborhood three months after the fatal shooting of black teenager Forest Winthrop by a white police officer. The ramifications of that event, told through a provocative mash up of poetry, realism and expressionism, reverberated among his friends, lover, and most importantly, his young son, the real focus of the West Coast premiere of this daring new play, written by Geraldine Inoa and directed with attention-grabbing flair by 2019 Obie Award winner Stevie Walker-Webb.
Given the prevalence of gun violence on the streets of America, the news of a police shooting barely gets noticed, unless of course the question of race enters into the scenario. But what SCRAPS does so effectively is get you to think about what happens to those left behind, the patterns of violence that persist, as well as the sadness which remains when the realization hits you how widespread the problems are and solutions non-existent. Playwright Inoa explains, "Trauma doesn't end after the event, but instead reverberates forever through the lives of those who remain."
SCRAPS, a term which refers to the cast-off food given to slaves which gave birth to "soul" food, centers on aspiring rapper Jean Baptiste Delacroix (Tyrin Niles) who spends his time hanging out and getting high on his building's stoop, Aisha Douglas (powerful Denise Yolén), the beautiful mother of Forest's son who struggles in a dead-end job to make ends meet, Calvin Young (Ahkei Togun), a recent college grad who returns home amid the emotional turmoil to soothe Aisha's torn-apart heart and soul, Aisha's tragic younger sister, Adriana (Ashlee Olivia) whose inability to deal with reality takes her over the edge, and Stan Mayer as the white police officer whose racist-based reactions initiate the violence which tears apart all their lives.
Scalding speeches punctuate the first half of SCRAPS, often centering on a takedown of America's white supremacy problem. But there are also moments of camaraderie and empathy among the survivors, especially when they launch into a joyful rendition of Biggie Small's "Notorious Thugs" that sets the tone of a joyful, Saturday night street party - until it's not.
But the most profound moments of the play occur as the set pieces are pushed offstage, leaving just a door in place through which Forest's young son, Sebastian Winthrop enters, brilliantly portrayed by Damon Rutledge, who will emotionally pull you into the intellectually-challenged, 8-year old boy's mind as he attempts to deal with his father's death. In fact, the entire second act takes place in the young boy's mind with Niles, Olivia, Togun and Yolén weaving in and out as both heavenly guides and hellish demons within the tortured boy's demented psyche as he wrestles with his loss, guilt, helplessness, growing pains and burgeoning queerness.
The magnificently written and directed surrealist scenes will cause audiences to realize the ongoing horrors resulting from such senseless violence and how the cycle is doomed to be repeated, with no real answers in sight. Yes, there is much sadness at the end. And tears. And soul searching. But that is what makes great theater - a thought-provoking experience that challenges you to think about and look at your own life while challenging you to make a difference in how humanity treats each other.
So extensive is the gamut of emotions brought to the forefront during SCRAPS, no doubt audiences will continue to sit in stunned silence at the end of each performance as they contemplate the truth behind current headlines which often gets ignored - until the violence happens to you or your loved one. We can only hope society can change for the better thanks to such thought-provoking work by artists destined for greatness - like all those involved with this insightful production, written by Geraldine Inoa whose vision of theater being the most brilliant way of weaponing language, is on full display with her passionate new voice screaming to be heard.
In fact, I was so dumbfounded at the end, the combination of tears and chills I felt stayed with me for hours, so profound was the effect of being in the presence of such a great ensemble of actors who transported the audience into another world to confront a reality all too familiar in these violent times. Inoa's provocative play will no doubt cause discomfort, but her hope to enable "audiences to make a step forward" into our common humanity, makes SCRAPS a show not to miss.
Performances continue through September 15 on Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 3 p.m. and Mondays at 8 p.m., produced and presented by Joseph Stern and The Matrix Theatre Company, located at 7657 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90046. General admission on Saturdays and Sundays is $35; all Monday evening performances are Pay-What-You-Want. Run time is 90 minutes without an intermission. For reservations and information, call (323) 960-7711 or go to www.matrixtheatre.com.
Photo credit: I.C. Rapoport and Stan Mayer