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Last Night and the Night Before

(Left to right) Bianca Laverne Jones as Rachel, Zaria Kelley as Sam, and Keona Welch as Monique
(L to R) Bianca Laverne Jones as Rachel, Zaria Kelley as Sam, and Keona Welch as Monique
Photo: AdamsVisCom
 
When a story begins with a father (Reggie) digging a grave, tossing a body into it, and covering it up, while his young daughter (Sam) and her mother (Monique) are watching, you know that buried feelings will rise up to haunt the proceedings. But the deeper question, in the Denver Center Theatre Company's world premiere of playwright Donnetta Lavinia Grays' Last Night and the Night Before, is whether those involved will break the cycle of victims becoming perpetrators.

(Left to right) Keona Welch as Monique<br>, Bianca Laverne Jones as Rachel, and Erin Cherry as Nadima
(L to R) Keona Welch as Monique,
Bianca Laverne Jones as Rachel,
and Erin Cherry as Nadima
Photo: AdamsVisCom
 
A few spins of the clock after the makeshift burial—when Monique (Keona Welch) shows up at her sister Rachel's (Bianca Laverne Jones) toney brownstone in Brooklyn, with Sam (Zaria Kelley) in tow—the tension is palpable, as Rachel's partner, Nadima (Erin Cherry), holds resentments from Monique's last visit, which cost her $4,000 related to Monique's heroin addiction.

(Left to right) Bianca Laverne Jones as Rachel and Erin Cherry as Nadima
(L to R) Bianca Laverne Jones as Rachel
and Erin Cherry as Nadima
Photo: AdamsVisCom
 
Grays' mastery of the Georgia lowcountry Gullah Geechee patois and her use of flashbacks make for a dreamy time-bending atmosphere in which memory and behavior are inseparable. When Monique seeks help for her issues and Reggie goes on the lam for defending his house from drug dealers, it is Rachel who steps in and takes responsibility for Sam, putting her relationship with Nadima at risk.

(Left to right) Zaria Kelley as Sam and Bianca Laverne Jones as Rachel
(L to R) Zaria Kelley as Sam
and Bianca Laverne Jones as Rachel
Photo: AdamsVisCom
 constrast
It is rare to find a major regional theatre company taking the risk of staging an intense drama that is dependent on a child actor, but as we see in Kelley's performance, the gamble pays off dramatically, as Kelley and Jones, like mother and daughter, sort through the emotional and psychological preconditions for healing and growth from Sam's and Rachel's traumas. The intricacies of this gestalt extend to the rest of the ensemble as well.

Sharod Choyce as Reggie and Keona Welch as Monique
Sharod Choyce as Reggie
and Keona Welch as Monique
Photo: AdamsVisCom
 
Nadima is complex psychologically, yet in Cherry's performance it all coalesces into a consistent motivation, style, and logic. The script places no blame here. The other lovers in the story, Monique and Reggie, were teenagers when Sam was born. Even as Monique and Reggie part, the spark between Welch and Choyce remains, over-arcing the tragedy that drives them apart.

Director Valerie Curtis-Newton's staging moves easily between present and past via Matthew Smucker's flowing set design and segued by the sound (Larry D. Fowler, Jr.) and lighting design (Mary Louise Geiger). The voice and dialect direction (Dwight Bacquie) brings lyrical expression to Grays' melifluous dialogue; the contrast in the costume design (Melanie Burgess) between the rural south barrier islands and seashore to that of Brooklyn chic delivers a telling visual subtext to the drama.

Zaria Kelley as Sam
Zaria Kelley as Sam
Photo: AdamsVisCom
Writ large, Grays' story is a poignant metaphor for one of the key elements that must happen globally—forgive and forget—if the human race is going to survive in a sustainable and progressive manner.

Denver Center Theatre Company's world premiere of Last Night and the Night Before, by Donnetta Lavinia Grays, runs through February 24th. For tickets: denvercenter.org/ticket.


 
 

Bob Bows



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