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Off Broadway

He Says: Fireflies Light Up the Atlantic Dynamically

He Says: Fireflies Light Up the Atlantic Dynamically

As we sit uncomfortably with the tragic news from Pittsburgh last week, it’s hard not to let the terror of that mass murder flit about in our mind as the sounds of inspiring gospel music carry us down into the 1960’s South. The time and the place are unveiled, wrapped onto the back of those storm clouds that gather. The parallels burn red and fierce, and lighting cuts through the sky, signaling that a storm is coming to the Fireflies that dart about Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater where Donja R. Love’s new play is getting a five-star premiere.  Directed with an emotional preciseness, Saheen Ali (Public’s Twelfth Night) teases out the layers with a delicate thoughtfulness as the winds swirl around the two spectacular leads wrestling the demons of revolution and frustration of in-equality, personally and politically, up out of the floorboards and onto their tired hopeless shoulders. The storm is here, right above, with driving winds destined to unearth all the secrets and lies that these two have kept hidden from each other, colliding over love and attachment, registering as far more deeply profound and dynamic than the initial impression could ever have imagined.

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DeWanda Wise. All Photos by Ahron R. Foster.

Dear Ruby“, dictates Olivia, played with an emotional depth and intelligence by Dewanda Wise (Lab’s Sunset Baby), formulating a letter that is written in the skies, to a woman who has more impact on the upcoming events then we can image, without her even being aware. The lyrical poetry is spoken from the porch out to God and all the Fireflies floating above, hoping that the grace of her words will help silence the bombs exploding in her head. The darkness is bringing news of terrible happenings in the world, visually and emotionally heightened by the strong and intense projections by Alex Basco Koch (Signature’s Be More Chill). The storm will fracture the lives of these two freedom fighters, cutting them apart with the sharpness of lightning in the skies, courtesy of some fine work by lighting designer David Weiner (Broadway’s The Price) and sound design/original music by Justin Ellington (LCT’s Pipeline). It’s surprising and intensely satisfying at every quick turn of a phrase, watching with wonder as the temperature drops and the power shifts as quickly as the armor that protected their guarded selves falls to the side. Both are forcibly stripped down to their exposed guttural and passionate selves, praying for a salvation that might never come. The writing is intricate, layered, subtle, and detailed, as we watch the sky fill with “my colored kids flying home“, the extinguished souls recreated into Fireflies, with their hopes and dreams desperate to find a haven of safety and civility in heaven.

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Khris Davis, DeWanda Wise. All Photos by Ahron R. Foster.

Pulling out an intensive slice of complicated history, a bomb has been detonated in a Baptist Church killing many of the African-American congregation. It’s an act of pure violence, hatred, racism, and terrorism, an act we are keenly activated by this same week in 2018. Olivia is searching for the right words to give to her solid husband, Charles, portrayed strongly and clearly by the powerful Kris Davis (Public/Broadway’s Sweat). He will need her assistance as he always has, far more than just as his housewife, cooking and cleaning the beautifully appointed kitchen of their lovely 1960’s home, thanks to the detailed work by scenic designer Arnulfo Maldonado (MCC’s Charm) and perfect period costumes by Dede Ayite (ATC’s Tell Hector…). He needs her mind and her thoughtful soul, as she is one with the word play in her heart, crafting speeches for her man to deliver with power and passion to their people. The stage is set, and the sweeping in of the tit-for-tat confrontation between two passionate lost souls finally surfaces, whether they want it to or not.

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Khris Davis. All Photos by Ahron R. Foster.

Charles will be asked to speak on the murdered souls’ behalf, this task, Olivia is keenly aware of, and she knows it is up to her and her speech writing to stir the souls who are mourning the deaths of the innocents. She wants to give them power and a purpose, and mend the hopelessness and the brokenness that lives inside her mind and her voice. Charles is a strong preaching presence, cutting quite the impressive silhouette when he arrives home exhausted from his mission out in that unjust world of inequality and death. In those first few moments of re-engagement, the two seem solid and connected, but thunder can be heard emanating out from within their hearts, warning sounds that a fracture is on its way.  And when it comes, all the secrets that they have kept buried under the floorboards or hidden inside packages delivered will reveal that these two have been existing in the eye of the storm, pretending all is good and loving. For the moment, it feels calm, but it’s only a momentary bit of sunlight before we feel the backend of the storm rolling in and wiping away all that false serenity.

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DeWanda Wise, Khris Davis. All Photos by Ahron R. Foster.

This is the second of Love’s multi-part The Love* Plays trilogy (Sugar in Our Wounds, Fireflies, In The Middle) and even though I have never seen the first, this spectacularly deep piece of writing feels as connected to the heaviness of the world as one could hope for. Death is all around, but so are the hidden pieces of evidence that could crack their connection. Unhappiness fills the perfumed air and the tightness and strain that resides in Olivia’s throat and voice is scratching at her heart, daring to be seen and heard.  He wants to keep his wife “lady-like” and properly in her place, but that doesn’t sit all that well on his wife and expecting mother.  She’s filled to the rim with rebellion, struggling against an explosive demon within for expression beyond just her words emulating from his mouth. The fuse, once lit, on that internal firecracker that is Olivia’s mind, finds freedom of expression in that last and most powerful speech. It sparks blazingly hot into the air of the former church that is now the Atlantic Theatre, most appropriately.  The holy window frames look down on us compassionately, as the real world News smashes our hearts with the grief and fear created from the Pittsburgh mass murder. Those victims fly up, joining with Olivia and Love’s’s Fireflies, reminding us all of the struggle we are up against, back then and now. All we can do is fight and resist, with our words and our actions, striving for equality, justice, and acceptance for all those marginalized by the powers that be, for the moment, but hopefully not for much longer. Now go VOTE for change and salvation.

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DeWanda Wise, Khris Davis. All Photos by Ahron R. Foster.for more, go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Off Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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