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BWW Review: SUNSET BABY at Arts West Presents a Slice of Life

BWW Review: SUNSET BABY at Arts West Presents a Slice of Life
Keita, Davis, and Trerise of SUNSET BABY
at Arts West. Photo by John McClellan.

SUNSET BABY at Arts West presents a slice of life with all its complexities, troubles, and truths. Troubled pasts, hard choices, and conflicting emotions rule the day in this show. No one has it easy, and no one escapes unscarred. Everyone has baggage, but must own their choices. They must all decide if they can find the courage to do better, to be better, or let their past rule their future.

SUNSET BABY is the story of Nina, a young woman with a troubled past. Her late mother was an addict, and her absent father a leader in the movement for social justice. She finds herself partnered with a hustler named Damon, making money by posing as a prostitute to con the unsuspecting out of their cash. Nina is visited by her estranged father. He is looking for a collection of letters from Nina's mother, Ashanti. Damon sees the letters as the big payday they need to leave their working days behind. Nina sees them as her last connection to her mother who loved her dearly but could not love herself. Nina's dad, Kenyatta, sees the letters as a last chance for answers and perhaps absolution from the family he left behind to fight in the movement.

Tyler Trerise as Damon continues his streak of memorable performances. He is completely at home in Damon's skin, and brings a measure of sympathy to a character that would be easy to dismiss. He reminds us that the people in your life are not just side characters in your story, but have a story of their own. While we aren't provided much in the way of clues to his future, I can't help but root for him. Marcel Davis has the challenge of playing Kenyatta, Nina's father. He is the perfect example of someone who is neither all good nor all bad, but rather all possible shades of gray. However, sometimes he wears his complexity as a badge of honor and uses it as an excuse to not connect with his daughter. All his shades of gray can become a bit bland feeling, and you want to see more passion in him.

Aishe Keita is mesmerizing as Nina. She brings to life all of Nina's humanity. Her strength and her vulnerabilities, her passion and her longings, are all displayed with authenticity. While Nina refuses to be the victim, she cannot deny that she has been shaped by her past. Keita's performance allows us to root for Nina, but never pity her.

SUNSET BABY often has the feel of a film. Director Valerie Curtis-Newton places actors in positions of power to underline their relationships. The use of projections and music provides a window into Nina's mind. The transitions are quick and often filled with music to give voice to the emotions that are swirling the stage. The show neither drags nor is rushed, but rather pulses with a heartbeat. SUNSET BABY doesn't offer easy answers or redemption. Life is hard. Forgiveness is hard. And sometimes the best we can do is survive.

SUNET BABY is playing at Arts West Playhouse through October 20th. For tickets or more information, visit

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