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BWW Reviews: Orlandersmith Honors the Artists Who Shaped Her in FOREVER

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Audience members entering New York Theatre Workshop for Dael Orlandersmith's touching solo piece, Forever, are provided with slips of paper so they may post a few words on the walls about someone who has passed on who has shaped their lives.

Dael Orlandersmith (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Most likely family members, friends or teachers would come to mind first, but the playwright/performer spends much of the next eighty minutes telling us of the great influence of people she never got to meet.

Reliving her first visit to Paris' Père Lachaise cemetery, where so many great artists are buried, she has the enthusiasm and wonder of a child visiting Disney World as she marvels at being in the company of Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Chopin and Balzac.

"I came to hear Collette tell me 'You're a writer. Where's your pen?' I came to hear Yves Montand sing to me and blow me a kiss and I see Simone Signoret giving him a playful slap and Apollinaire looks on, laughing."

She expresses great comfort in being among, "These people who are really my family. Who I really want to be my family."

Her abusive, alcoholic widowed mother, who passed on in 1989, may have shaped her life as well by driving her to the arts for solace. Visiting the grave of Jim Morrison, she recalls how as an eleven-year-old she was captivated by the other-worldliness of The Doors' "Light My Fire" and how strolling through her Harlem neighborhood with her beloved copy of the band's first album in her hands attracted stares and angry remarks. ("Listenin' to that white shit. I should beat your ass.")

Dael Orlandersmith (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Perhaps they'd be happier to learn how much she would later identify with the writings of Richard Wright. ("You knew at a very young age how cruel the world can be and you found the beauty, strength in words to reveal yourself in the face of that cruelty.")

While recalling her own cruel memories, Orlandersmith also seeks connections with her fellow visitors, wondering of their histories with those buried below.

Directed by Neel Keller, the playwright is a warm, embracing presence; proof of being a survivor with an eye toward the future. Perhaps, many years from now, that future will involve a troubled soul visiting her grave site to connect with someone who helped shape his or her life.

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