“Passing Strange“, the Tony-winning black rock-opera is righteous, and it’s being staged in Chicago featuring local soul revivalists JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound… and my chica: LaNisa Frederick. Amen.
Passing Strange is the coming-of-age story of “Youth” (Daniel Breaker), a kid growing up somewhere in LA in the seventies. He is disillusioned because he doesn’t fit the common definition of blackness. Floating above the city, getting high in his choir director’s blue Volkswagen beetle, “Youth” decides to uproot himself from everything he’s known in order to find home.
It takes a blurry, nomadic trek across Europe to realize some ultimate truths about where he fits in the world and whom he can count among his tribe. Features a great live band (book and music by Stew and Heidi) and meaty writing that sometimes billows poetically like blood in water. For anyone who grew up not fitting in, then realized that they fit in perfectly, after all. Jive on. Below, an excerpt from the Spike Lee-documented Broadway staging.
Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “In the Red and Brown Water,” now playing at Steppenwolf’s Upstairs Theater, is an exercise in duality that lends itself to complete immersion, an exercise in which you’re left like a used bag of orange pekoe (feeling purposefully spent).
Reality blends with chorus-driven fantasy, magic with carnality, and comedy with tragedy in this heartfelt display. Oya, the lead character, is played hauntingly by Alana Arenas. Ms. Arenas, who I caught lunch with after the show (she likes bruschetta), is a whisper-quiet left hook: a spirit to be reckoned with (in life and on the stage).
Set in a Louisiana Housing Project, “Water” is a story of a Golden Girl, and how one decision (made at the cusp of womanhood) sends her down a pathway to a more tarnished reality. Ms. Arenas imbibes an undeniable warmth as Ora, chasing the shadows of potential, of love, and of dashed dreams of creation. Also stand out in the play were Jacqueline Willams and Steppenwolf ensemble members K. Todd Freeman and Ora Jones.
Part of the Brother/Sister Trilogy of Plays (all playing in repertory at Steppenwolf), In the Red Brown Water plays until May 23rd. for more info, visit steppenwolf.org. Jive on!