Sunday, September 25, 2016

Review: A Powerful, Emotional, Raw Play

By Kaila M. Stokes

Chokehold written by Anthony P. Pennino was a profound outlook on the prevalent racial issues in our country today. It opened with a director type figure named Jason, played by Roland Lane, moving lights and the camera to a perfect angle viewing a chair. There was a TV set up reflecting whatever the camera was getting for the audience the entire show. This type of viewing was unique because the audience was seeing what was going to be sent out to the public and then also catching everything “behind the scenes” as well. The lights were outside event style flood lighting used to create drama and shadows in a very open space. Jason then calls action and in walks Devon. Well, he is actually forced in by two characters dressed as cops who are yelling and getting physical with Devon. Devon, played by David Gow, is a frightened “white boy” who seems to be oblivious as to why he is there under duress. David Gow’s performance is moving to say the least. He went on an emotional journey unlike any other and reached those emotional peaks bringing the audience along with him. The reason Devon was there is because of no reason at all. Due to Devon’s pure and innocent “whiteness” he has been chosen to be a sacrifice for the greater good of the movement this group of people believe in called Justice Now Front. The Justice Now Front is made up of five friends that have tried to peacefully protest when a black person is killed unlawfully by police, they have tried writing letters, doing interviews; but they are at their wits end and believe that the only way people will start to listen is if they start to sacrifice innocent white people. No matter your beliefs, Chokehold is a remarkable view inside the lives of people readily affected by this painstaking issue and are out to make a difference whether they are using the right or wrong methods is the question.
The director, Tim Cusack, should be commended for taking such a huge issue in our country and still finding the humor in the text, in the actors and the beauty in each characters story. It felt as if the audience knew each character by the end. Even though the end was surprising, there was a buildup that makes the audience hold their breath.  The time was taken for each characters’ story to development from point A to point B. Tika, played by Marija Juliette Abney, is a stunning actress that delivers lines with grace and ownership. Tika was the voice of reason throughout the play, asking each one of her friends to look inside themselves for their own stories and see if this was the right path or not. She delivered a beautiful monologue about her heritage incorporating movement that was fresh, exciting, and allowed for the words to flow like her physicality.
photo by Alberto Bonilla
There were moments in this serious play that made you laugh; specifically Rokia Shearin (playing Dominique) always had a spit-fire delivery that kept the audience on their toes. She is a strong black woman that believes she is doing good not evil. During her story, the act of killing someone breaks her down into a mere mortal like the rest of us and it is humbling to watch. Andre, played by Michael Oloyede, surprised everyone. His anger and rage grew throughout the piece erupting into a violent irrevocable scene of carnage at the end. His pain represents so many that act on that pain. Chokehold reminds us that no matter how bad it gets, if you stoop to that level, you have lost your own self.
The couple things that could have changed were; the moment when Dominique decides she should kill Devon and the physicality of Carter, played by Thomas Mussnich.  Carter was the other police officer hostage-taker partnered with Andre. He was constantly brooding with his shoulders hunched forward, and fists clench. Throughout the piece he comes to a realization that he does not want to do this and delivers a moving monologue about leaving his mom and sister to fend for themselves. Ultimately, he has a change in heart.  With this enlightenment he gains, it would have been an interesting element to see his physicality change too. He could have softened a bit throughout the play making him go from physically menacing to relatable.
A huge moment was when, after all the arguing about who was actually going to commit the crime, Dominique decides she will put it all to rest and do the deed herself. She wraps her hands around the night-stick, thrusts her hands over Devon’s neck, begins to choke him for about three seconds, and pulls away in fear. What a major moment! This needed to be held longer to let the audience simmer in the pot of discomfort that is killing someone! It was the only missed opportunity of the entire show, but it needed to be held longer and the audience needed to see the fear take over her.
Overall, Chokehold, had everyone on the edge of their seats. Without giving away anything, this show is funny, provocative, honest and gut-wrenching all in one. And all of this is done in a little black box theater at the 14th Street YMCA? Theater is a wonderful tool to let your voice be heard. Chokehold used this tool in a beautiful and titillating way to raise awareness. I would run to see this while you still can!