If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

Orlandersmith Back at Long Wharf with "Forever"

When I recall really special evenings I’ve had in the theatre, top of my list would be the 2002 production of “Yellowman” at the Long Wharf Theatre. Playwright/actress Dael Orlandersmith seemingly came out of nowhere to deliver this powerful theatre experience about love, tolerance and racism and I’ve never forgotten it. So it is very much our good fortune that Ms. Orlandersmith has now returned to Long Wharf with the world premiere of her latest play, a solo work called “Forever”.

According to the author, “Forever” is a memoir play based on the difficult relationship she endured with her mother, a well-read but often cruel alcoholic. Orlandersmith’s conflicted, complicated feelings toward her mother comprise the 80 minute (without intermission) journey that “Forever” takes. The play is about transformation and the role literature and music can have on one’s life. There is also a stirring section midpoint of the drama where the playwright describes a molestation that is as scary and haunting as anything you’re likely to experience on any stage this year.

The story itself, however, does not carry the weight or dramatic significance as the one in “Yellowman” and while it may be unfair to compare, there are similarities between the two that I found hard to ignore. Still, the opportunity to witness an actress and playwright of Orlandersmith’s extraordinary gifts under Neel Keller’s unobtrusive direction is more than worth the trip. From the moment the actress takes the stage, she is a compelling figure to watch. She commands with ease, her vocal gifts remarkable as the listener is drawn into this riveting tale of abuse, rejection and, ultimately, forgiveness.

The simple raised set by Takeshi Kata works well but the small photographs that line the back walls and are occasionally lit, would be more effective as rear projections. Their current size does not read past the first row even in the intimacy of Long Wharf’s Stage II. Mary Louise Geiger’s expressive lighting and Adam Phalen’s sound design, though, work perfectly as does the flowing frock that costume designer Kaye Voyce has provided her star.

“Forever” is not easy theatre to experience but, given the topic, it shouldn’t be. For the adventurous, however, it’s a universal tale about the search for family, for self, for transformation and in the hands of this gifted actress and writer, the experience should stay with you, well, forever.

“Forever” continues at Long Wharf on Stage II through February 1. For further information and ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at: 203.787.4282 or visit: www.longwharf.og.

Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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