A cacophony of sounds, sights and emotions paradoxically assaults and charms the audience for the world premiere of “When We Wake Up Dead,” by Dennis A. Allen II.
In the play, put on by the Brooklyn College Department of Theater, a dysfunctional extended family in the Deep South confronts life’s cruelties. They are armed with a contradictory combination of shrewd stoicism and self destruction.
The exceptional performance by Jacqueline Springfield as Aunt Cheryl anchors the entire production. Her ability to outmaneuver the overwhelmingly destructive events in her life is palpable. Springfield’s voice, facial expressions and indeed her entire onstage presence are commanding and dynamic. Well done!
From the opening flashback, countless devastating situations generate unexpected consequences. Uncle Cecil (Michael Gaines) moans relentlessly as he succumbs to a terminal illness. Cousin Emory (Shomari Pinnock) is obsessed with suicide. Emory’s Aunt Lynn (Kristin Fulton) reveals a devastating secret. Fraternal twins Bryant (Lorenzo Cromwell) and James (Chakeefe Gordon) share playful brotherly affection. But a terrible aggression lies beneath.
The two-act drama, interspersed with clever cross-generational quips, offers questions that must be answered. Are the characters complete victims or partial instigators in their own painful fates? Does the story’s title generate even more possibilities than articulated by the cast?
Director Christopher Burris never relents in bombarding us with every level of uneasiness. While actions are occurring stage left, there are noises and activities unfolding stage right. Clearly, we are not to sit complacently. No, this story is not about comfort and calm. It is about surviving or succumbing to the harshest distractions of life.
The detailed set (design by Pei-Wen Huang-Shea) portrays an entire home without walls. The hallways, porches, bedrooms, living room and kitchen are all functional. Seemingly harmless activities in one room will ultimately impact events in another. Shocked gasps often ripple through the audience. Stay vigilant!
At the conclusion, we are left breathless. The story has challenged us to fight or flee as passionately as the characters. The standing ovation at play’s end is well deserved. This is indeed the new definition for gut wrenching drama. Bravo!
Behind the scenes kudos to Sabrina Bianca Guillaume (costume design), Byungchul Lee (lighting design), Mark Bruckner (music and sound design), Robert Tuftee (fight direction) and Eddy Roland (stage manager).
For information on future projects, click on the department’s website at http://depthome.brooklyn.cuny.edu/theater/ or call the box office at 718-951-4500. As always, save me a seat on the aisle.