Friday, September 7, 2018

World premiere of Geraldine Inoa's "Scraps" at The Flea

Roland Lane (left), Alana Raquel Bowers (bottom center),
Michael Oloyede (top center) and Tanyamaria (right).
the main cast members of Scraps at The Flea
(photo: Hunter Canning)

What we always hear: “Black Male Shot by White Police Officer.” What we never see: how loved ones struggle to cope amidst their anger and grief.
-- from program notes for Scraps

In its new Tribeca home and its fresh new season devoted to "Color Brave" programming, The Flea Theater comes out swinging with Scraps, a psychological drama by LA-based playwright and television writer Geraldine Inoa, directed by Niegel Smith. With a strategy similar to Jackie Sibblies Drury's recent Fairview (Soho Rep), another theater piece examining race in America, Inoa carefully grounds her audience in the familiar before hauling us into bizarre territory. Hard to tell, though, which one hauls with the rougher hand: Fairview's second and third acts seem more cleverly conceptual while Scraps goes full-out surreal nightmare with a menacing Greek tragedy-style chorus.

The 85-minute piece takes place in The Flea's tiny Siggy Theater on a shallow stage not even a leg-stretch away from the audience's first row, a set-up that will only become more engulfing and threatening as this tale of Black urban life and racist police violence proceeds. Inoa introduces us to four main characters--connected by race, culture, neighborhood and personal history--whose interactions become complicated by grief, resentment and fear.

All roles are played by members of the Flea's resident acting troupe, The Bats. We first meet unemployed Jean-Baptiste (Roland Lane) who deftly raps up a bleak, nearly Shakespearean take on the prospects for a Black man under white supremacy. Like his namesake, he's a voice of one crying in the wilderness, and a stern warning.

Inoa quickly--maybe too much so, too stereotypically--gives him a nemesis in the form of Calvin (Michael Oloyede), a London-based college student now home in Bed-Stuy for only a brief visit. Calvin, looking casually-sharp in a way that immediately ticks off Jean-Baptiste, has been able to avoid dealing with the police killing of an unarmed Black man they both knew. Calvin longs to get back in the good graces of Aisha (Alana Raquel Bowers), single mother and young widow of the slain man. Though none too pleased with Calvin either, the alternately sunny, bone-tired and volatile Aisha is susceptible. But her sister Adriana (Tanyamaria) carries the heaviest burden of all, a trauma she tries to conceal with good humor and toughness. Tries and repeatedly fails.

This quartet of skilled actors has energy to burn, particularly Bowers and Tanyamaria who, when they get going with their lines, leave us in the dust, hyperventilating, unable to catch up. Of all, even Jean-Baptiste, Inoa gives the women the best language. But all actors turn on extraordinary ferocity in the final, disturbing developments of the story, which I will not reveal here.

Where Sibblies Drury concluded Fairview with a panoramic view of white privilege, boldly implicating her audience, Inoa maintains focus on the tragedy of unhealed racial trauma passed from generation to generation.

Other cast members: Andrew Baldwin, Bryn Carter

Sets: Ao Li
Costumes: Andy Jean
Lighting: Kate McGee
Sound: Megan Deets Culley
Violence choreography: Michael G. Chin

Scraps continues at The Flea through September 24. For information and tickets, click here.

The Flea Theater
20 Thomas Street, Manhattan
(map/directions)

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