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A CurtainUp Review
Eve's Song

. . . if you conduct yourself like the respectable young black man that you are, and you're in the house at a decent hour, you'll have no problems.
— Deborah Johnson, the well-meaning parent to her adolescent son
Eve's Song
Karl Green, Ashley D. Kelley, Kadijah Raquel, and De'Adre Aziza (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Deborah Johnson, protagonist of Patricia Ione Lloyd's Eve's Song, thinks her circumstances are tragic. She's not wrong about that. What's amazing is that playwright Lloyd manages to fashion a comedy, albeit a bleak one, out of the dilemma of Deborah and her household.

Eve's Song fluctuates between the saga of Deborah's family and a series of lyrical monologues in which three victims of hate crimes and sexual violence speak from beyond the grave, describing their fates and baring their hearts. This is a state-of-the-nation play that also serves as commentary on how perilous it is to be black (or certain other minorities) in the United States in this second decade of the 21st century.

Deborah (De'adre Aziza) lives with her two children in a suburb — "upper middle class," according to the playwright — of a large, unnamed city. She is well-educated, refined, and has a middling position on the executive ladder of a sizable corporation in an unidentified industry.

"I just want the best for my kids," Deborah declares; "and to get the best you have to have the best attitude and behave like the best." For a quarter century, she has given her conscientious all to marriage, motherhood, homemaking, and professional life. Isn't that enough to ensure success, security, and happiness? "We are the kind of people that make six figures and anonymously donate to the cause," Deborah tells herself at one point. In the course of Eve's Song, however, she discovers that her old assumptions are flawed.

Deborah's husband Richard (an offstage character) has left her; and though he sees their children periodically, he has moved on. College-age daughter Lauren (Kadijah Raquel) is coming out as a lesbian and wants to introduce a girlfriend into the domestic mix. Adolescent son Mark (Karl Green) is watching videos of violence against black men on his laptop with the stealth other teenagers employ when they access pornography. And in Deborah's workplace, a man crucial to her advancement is making unwelcome advances, coupled with menacing comments.

Adding to Deborah's agitation is the threat of violence that seems ubiquitous in the society around her. She fears for her children's safety — Mark's because he's a black youth; Lauren's because she's gay. And, before the play is over, she has to fear on her own account.

Playwright Lloyd is adamant about her comedic intention in writing Eve's Song: "This play is a COMEDY (a dark comedy)," she says in a brief preface. "When the world is against us we must find a reason to smile."

The principal reason to smile at Eve's Song is Upendo Hacki Supreme (birth name, Tiffany), the girlfriend who Lauren brings home to meet her very proper family. Upendo is a masterpiece of comedic writing; and she's played with antic flair by the supremely talented Ashley D. Kelley.

Kelley is catalyst for almost all the play's laugh-out-loud moments. Going head to head with prim, holier-than-thou Deborah, the saucy Upendo "up ends" the delicate balance of Johnson family life. At that moment, the play, which has its sluggish sequences, takes off like a rocket ship.

"Life can be short and hard or long and joyous, all depending on your attitude," Deborah tells her children. Lloyd has set herself a challenging task, writing a comedy about a woman who's having a hard time keeping her joy afloat. But the Public Theater has engaged a creative team that deemphasizes the lugubrious elements of Lloyd's script.

Riccardo Hernandez has provided a cartoon-inspired set, with a wall in the Johnson residence that cracks and disintegrates as the Johnson's family life comes apart. Lap Chi Chu's lighting and Hana S. Kim's projections make the supernatural scenes, which feature the three Spirit Women (Vernice Miller, Rachel Watson-Jih, and Tamara M. Williams), fanciful and intriguing rather than out-and-out gruesome.

As staged by director Jo Bonney and the previously mentioned designers, the sequences with the Spirit Women are more visually striking than anything else in the production. Yet the playwright, director, and designers haven't figured out how to integrate these unsettling — appropriately unsettling — scenes into the larger saga of the Johnsons. It's unclear why the Spirit Women haunt this particular house and what connection, if any, they may have had in life to this place or its current residents. That, however, is a minor complaint about a play that depicts so vividly and with such humor the toxic effects of racism, the tenderness of family affection, and the aching metamorphosis from youth to maturity.

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Eve's Song by Patricia Ione Lloyd
Directed by Jo Bonney
Cast: De'Adre Aziza (Deborah), Karl Green (Mark), Ashley D. Kelley (Upendo), Vernice Miller (Spirit Woman), Kadijah Raquel (Lauren), Rachel Watson-Jih (Spirit Woman), and Tamara Williams (Spirit Woman)
Scenic Design: Riccardo Hernandez
Costume Design: Emilio Sosa
Lighting Design: Lap Chi Chu
Sound Design: Elisheba Ittoop
Projection Design: Hanna S. Kim
Movement Direction: Stefanie Batten Bland
Production Stage Manager: Linda Marvel
Running Time: 100 minutes without intermission Presented by The Public Theater in its LuEsther Hall (425 Lafayette Street);
From 10/21/18; opened 11/07/18; closing 12/09/18
Reviewed by Charles Wright at a press performance on 11/02/18

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