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BWW Review: HARLEM DUET explores racism and relationships at Coronado Playhouse

HARLEM DUET from Coronado Playhouse is streaming on demand through April 18

BWW Review: HARLEM DUET explores racism and relationships at Coronado Playhouse

HARLEM DUET, now streaming from Coronado Playhouse is an apt name for this beautiful, and heartbreaking play. In a "prequel" to Shakespeare's OTHELLO, the play follows one couple in the 1860s, 1928, and in modern Harlem. Proving that the echoes of the same old songs of racism, privilege, and relationships can be heard throughout history and into the modern-day.

Written by Canadian playwright Djanet Sears, in many ways HARLEM DUET is the flip side of the coin to Shakespeare's OTHELLO. Othello is still a main character, but instead of one time period this play offers three, and instead of mostly male characters HARLEM DUET offers mostly female. In both, the cursed strawberry handkerchief, jealousy, and madness find their way to wreak havoc, but this time it's Othello's wife Billie, and not him who is being destroyed by them.

In modern time Othello, here a teacher at Columbia University has walked out on Billie, to marry his white colleague, Mona. From there, the plot shows the couple through time as they navigate both their circumstances and their relationship in each era, each time with Othello choosing a version of Desdemona over Billie.

Danielle Bunch brings all three versions of Billie to life; a slave who dreams of escaping to Canada, a 1928 jazz performer, to a razor-sharp grad student trying to put the pieces of her life and schooling back together from Othello's departure. In all interations Bunch's Billie is razor-sharp, tender-hearted, ambitious, funny, and ferocious all at once. She is not just dealing with heartbreak, but she is full of rage - for him, for her situation, and for the powerful societal racial norms that impact her and her friends and family every day.

Malachi Beasley gives each era's Othello nuance, tenderness, and charm; it's easy to see why Billie falls for him. This makes it even harder as the character is blinded by his stubbornness, entitlement, and obliviousness. In each era, from his internalized racism and mansplaining affirmative action to Billie, to donning blackface as a 1928 actor, or to choose to stay loyal to his white slave owner instead of trying to escape, he ends up betraying himself and Billie over and over.

In the modern timeline, the cast is rounded out by friends and family who worry about what is happening. Both, Carla BaNu Dejesus as Magi, a delightful friend and landlord to Billie, along with Heather Barton Tjalma as Amah, Billie's sister-in-law, provide a welcome sense of comfort, humor, and joy to Billie's life during these trying times.

Ahmed Kenyatta Dents play's Billie's father who has arrived after hearing of Billie's breakdown. His character is aptly named Canada, who has been an inconsistent father figure and source of solace. Andrea Acuna has a brief scene as who has Othello's new fiancée, Mona.

Directed by Kandace Crystal, the play dives into personal heartbreak, while also highlighting the role and devastation of racist power imbalances that shaped and continue to persist in society. Yet, the hope and love from Billie's female friends and family are what keep the embers of joy, and hope for a better future alive all the way through to the end of the play.

Set design by Dennis Floyd, Lighting by Kevin "Blax" Burroughs, and costumes by Beonica Bullard work to build out each era. Filmed for streaming by Mark Akiyama and Landon Akiyama, it brings the play vividly onto your screen.

As Billie says at the top of the show "We've done this before." HARLEM DUET is a moving and thought-provoking play that raises pressing and present questions on race, privilege, and relationships. Billie's despair is echoed throughout history, and her character shows that heartbreak and madness will come if we continue to let it echo into the future.

HARLEM DUET is streaming on-demand through April 18. Tickets are $25 per household. For ticket information please go to coronadoplayhouse.org.

You will be sent a unique link to view the show after you have purchased your ticket.

Photo Credit: Carla BaNu Dejesus, Malachi Beasley, and Danielle Bunch. Photo by Ken Jacques, Coronado Playhouse

HARLEM DUET

Written by Djanet Sears

Director...........................................................................................................Kandace Crystal

Producer............................................................................................................ Anthony Zelig

Production Stage Manager ...........................................................................Beonica Bullard

Dramaturg...........................................................................................................Kimberly King

Intimacy Choreographer............................................................................... Natalie Griffith

Robichaux Set Designer................................................................................... Dennis Floyd

Costume Designer...........................................................................................Beonica Bullard

Lighting Designer & Operator............................................................Kevin "Blax" Burroughs

Props Designer......................................................................................................Kathy Parks

Resident Sound Designer & Original Music Composition............................Marc Akiyama

Film Production ...................................................................Marc Akiyama, Landon Akiyama

Marketing .............................................................................. Barron Henzel, Anthony Zelig

Graphic Design...................................................................................................Barron Henzel

Production Photography ..................................................................................... Ken Jacques

Production Manager........................................................................................... Anthony Zelig


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