Review: BLKS at Burbage Theatre Company

Burbage mounts captivating RI premiere of Barnes' intense slice-of-life comedy

By: Nov. 21, 2023
Review: BLKS at Burbage Theatre Company

In theatre, the universal lives in the particular. For playwright Aziza Barnes in BLKS, the particular is a trio of queer Black women sharing an apartment in Brooklyn on one day (and night) in 2015. Behind those specifics are some powerful truths about friendship, intimacy, and survival. This exuberant, engaging production features outstanding performances in a crisply directed evening of theater that delivers its biting social critique with precision and dark humor.

One of the three friends, the writer Octavia finds a potentially cancerous spot on her clitoris which precipitates a fight with her lover, Ry, who is not keen to play armchair dermatologist. This occasions a round of "clit mole" day drinking, which leads to an evening at a club where we meet several denizens of a Friday night in Soho. It's a weirdly typical 24 hours in NYC, alternately hilarious, terrifying, and poignant, until everything collides in a final scene with mad yelling, recriminations, and spilled coffee. 

As directed by the Burbage's resident artist, Catia, the deep humanity of the three friends and their lovers (and others) is always front and center. The action—in a simple, suggestive set by Trevor Elliott with a small three-scene turntable and a few props—is fluid and efficient and the pacing is tight, perfectly suited to Barnes' hyper-realistic dialog. Catia clearly trusts both the material and the cast, and has done an outstanding job at making us feel this is all just, well, happening. And this cast really brings the authenticity.

Daria Lyric-Montaquila is a delight as 'Tavia (named after the sf writer Octavia Butler). It's a role with some serious range, and Lyric-Montaquila is up to the challenge—hurt, rage, fear, hope—all handled with empathy and a solid sense of character. She is appropriately dreamy as a writer who seems stuck in her own head, sometimes unaware of the impact of her actions. Most significantly, on her lover, Ry, (Ayrin Ramirez Peguero who handles the whiplash of Tavia's mood swings with a powerful dignity.)

Imani, played with endearing intensity by  Autumn Jefferson, is a devotee of Eddie Murphy's standup (for reasons that matter). After she bombs at an open mic, Imani has a fraught encounter with the "Bitch on the Couch" (Sarah Gruber in a delightful turn) where the two compress an entire relationship into a few tightly acted scenes. Really fine performances.

Like her two friends, June is not having the best day: she goes to make her boyfriend breakfast and discovers he's cheating. In Abraphine Ngafaih's expert hands, we see the hurt, the anxiety, and behind it, the clear, clever mind of a dedicated gamer and soon-to-be consultant. Her scenes with Justin (Jordan Daniel Smith, charming as a confused and slightly stalky guy from the club) are a delight.

Catia keeps the action bubbling along and the 90 minutes of the show fly by.

Ultimately, BLKS is about the search for a place to belong, the fragility of love, and the deep bonds of friendship that get us through tough times. And these deep issues are being explored here by a company of fearless, committed actors in a tightly directed evening of theater. You will laugh, you may occasionally gasp, and you will leave the theatre understanding some important things. Highly recommended.

BLKS by Aziza Barnes, directed by Catia, Burbage Theatre, Nov. 24-Dec. 3. Thurs-Sat 7:30, Sat-Sun 2pm. Tickets $30/Students $15. Burbage Theatre, 59 Blackstone Ave, Pawtucket, RI 02860. Box office: (401) 484-0355, info@burbagetheatre.org

Photo by Andrew Iacovelli




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