Monday, July 4, 2022

Weekly Margin 2022, W28: Lessons in Survival: 1971

What: Vineyard Theatre presents a play based on Nikki Giovanni's 1971 SOUL! interview with James Baldwin. This piece, conceived and created with The Commissary, continues Vineyard's exploration of documentary theater, and was originally presented digitally in 2020 as part of the Lessons in Survival series.
And? Consummately done. I could listen to Carl Clemons-Hopkins talk for hours in their deep melodic voice, and it is so thrilling to see the powerful and warm Crystal Dickinson in another great performance in less than a year. Amith Chandrashaker's lighting design does so much to sculpt the space and individual moments, bringing the two characters into smaller and more intimate lighting as the discussion digs deeper and deeper into these two great minds' guiding tenets. I will admit I didn't often understand what Josiah Davis's video and projection design was doing, but it didn't undermine the experience for me, so I don't mind (James Wilson's review on Talkin Broadway shows deeper insight into this--probably aided by a slightly higher seat than mine, as I could barely see the sea of static from the second row--so I'm linking it here). The conversation, though rooted in the issues most on their minds at 1971, is infuriatingly still relevant today, in the ways Black bodies and Black artists aren't allowed to simply exist, and the systems in place to keep them from rising. I can see why The Commissary saw the need to revive this conversation, to discuss these issues with such incisive clarity, so that we can, as the program note quotes, "Listen. To hear, not to respond./We need each other./To love is a tremendous responsibility./It's the only one to take. There isn't any other."

Carl Clemons-Hopkins and Crystal Dickinson as James Baldwin and
Nikki Giovanni. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

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