REVIEWS: “BLKS” and “God Shows Up”
Two new comedies opened Off-Broadway in the last week, Aziza Barnes’ “BLKS” at MCC Theater and Peter Filichia’s “God Shows Up” at the Actors’ Temple. Below I take a look at each:
“BLKS” (New Play, MCC Theater): under the reliably trenchant hand of director and playwright Robert O’Hara, queer black poet Aziza Barnes makes a memorable playwriting debut with “BLKS”, an hysterically funny and soberingly sad look at a day in the life of three young black women who share an apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Driven more by character than plot, this play lands like the extended pilot episode of TV’s newest hit sitcom—one I would very much want to watch—which is not surprising given that it is the spiritual progeny of TV shows like “Girls” and “Sex and the City”, albeit with a queer black twist.
As the play opens, indie filmmaker Octavia (Paige Gilbert) has just been eaten out by her status-undefined girlfriend, Ry (Coral Peña), only to discover a mole on her clitoris that sends Ry packing. Meanwhile, Octavia’s equally-as-unemployed though aspiring standup comic roommate Imani (Alfie Fuller), who spends her days memorizing bits from “Eddie Murphy Raw”, is all-too eager to assist, and their third roommate, math-whiz June (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy), returns home to inform the girls that she’s discovered her boyfriend cheating on her for the 11th time this year, even as she’s just been hired as an accounting consultant at Deloitte.
After making an appointment with her aunt-dermatologist to have her “clit mole” removed and realizing it might permanently alter her sexual experience, Octavia, Imani, and June graduate from day-drinking to embark on a “mission to resurrect [their] fly” and head out to a club. The wild night ahead includes June getting assaulted on the street, Octavia having her panties stolen by a creep, Imani attracting a micro-aggression-machine white girl named in the program as “that bitch on the couch” (Marié Botha), and June being followed home by the eerily friendly Justin (Chris Myers), who crashes on the couch before being persuaded to help Octavia succeed in her mission to be eaten out one last time.
The queer black millennial patois of the central three characters is both refreshing to hear and side-splittingly funny. The comedy aside, “BLKS” also humanizes the experience of young black women as they encounter casual mistreatment, abuse, and invisibility. Every joy exists beside a menacing terror. Indeed, the greatest achievement of Barnes is the fully-realized creation of these characters who have, to date, rarely if at all been seen on stage. MCC Theater has a knack for producing works that mine new territory and celebrate diverse voices. With “BLKS”, they have once again met this mission. While exceptionally staged and performed, the play nevertheless hews toward the schematic and ultimately makes a more compelling case for its adaptation on the small screen. That critique can only exist because the characters are so compelling and lovable. I highly recommend a visit to “BLKS”. Opened May 9th; runs through June 2nd at The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space. Tickets
“God Shows Up” (New Play): it is fitting that critic and writer Peter Filichia’s amusing new comedy “God Shows Up” plays at The Actors’ Temple—a functioning house of worship that doubles as a theatre—for the setting of the play is televangelist Dr. Thomas Isaac Rehan’s “Interfaith Church for You” at The Dome arena in Saint Louis, Missouri (former home of the Saint Louis Rams). For today’s edition of his popular television program aimed at Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike, Dr. Rehan has scored a marquee interview guest: God himself, and, as it turns out, herself, too! But when God shows up, as the title suggests, things don’t go quite as planned.
Dr. Rehan (Christopher Sutton) embodies the smooth-talking, telegenic, snake oil salesman type who speaks in puns with a Southern accent, and always sports a grin. His show is punctuated by a series of commercials for products he’s hawking, from his latest book to breath mints, air fresheners, flip-flops, and even ketchup (just call 1-877-DEVOTED). It is clear from the get go that Mr. Filichia’s aim is to skewer the rampant hypocrisy of the conmen who run the religion business—think Joel Osteen—which he does with delicious abandon.
When God (Lou Liberatore) does show up—clad in jeans, a waffle Henley, and boots—he proceeds to genially rib Dr. Rehan’s lack of fidelity to the religions he expounds for profit, bearing no animus toward mankind, and revealing that, contrary to popular belief, he doesn’t get mad or even. Instead, God is quite impressed by the creativity and ingenuity of his people, and has decided to come back only to clear his name from the “bad press” he’s received from preachers like Dr. Rehan. God later re-manifests as his female form (LeeAnne Hutchison) before a tornado, earthquake, and hurricane (in Missouri?) strike The Dome, destroy Dr. Rehan’s compound of homes, and force a confrontation that reveals the televangelist’s truly devilish identity.
This almost skit-like play earns only modest laughter because the territory of religious hypocrisy is so exhaustingly well-worn in popular culture and the audience itself is no doubt self-selected to hear an argument with which it already vehemently agrees. To wit: Mr. Filichia is preaching to the choir. That said, all three actors give fine performances under the direction of Christopher Scott, particularly Mr. Sutton, who nails the televangelist archetype without leaning on caricature, and Mr. Liberatore, whose easy-going God is a delight. This 80 minute comedy doesn’t tread any new ground or offer any new insights, and is unlikely to change any minds, but for those already converted it does offer a charming retread of an age-old phenomenon. Opened May 13th; plays at The Actors’ Temple. Tickets