Off Broadway Reviews
The Downtown Urban Arts Festival (DUAF) is celebrating its twentieth anniversary rather further uptown than usual by moving its productions of full-length and one-act plays into Theatre Row, smack dab in Times Square. Its centerpiece is the well-acted if spare production of B-Boy Blues The Play, written by James Earl Hardy and based on his series of novels about LGBTQ romances set within the Black community.
Originally produced in 2013, when it was honored as the winner of the festival's Audience Award, B-Boy Blues The Play tells the story of a gay sexual encounter that turns rather more serious, much to the surprise of both men who would seem to have little in common beyond their initial physical attraction.
Professional journalist and squarely middle-class Mitchell (Damone Williams) meets up with a bike messenger named Raheim (Kené Chelo Ortiz) while the former is waiting at a bus stop and the latter is heading out from a pickup basketball game, accompanied by his homeboys D. C. (Jermaine Montell) and Angel (Ashton Harris). Eyes meet, phone numbers are exchanged, and the rest takes off from there.
Over the course of several months, the relationship between the men evolves and deepens but also becomes complicated, mostly on Raheim's part. While his circle of friends know and accept that he has sex with other men, Raheim, unlike Mitchell, is not completely comfortable identifying himself as a gay man. There is that girlfriend and their five-year-old son to consider, so it is not surprising that Mitchell wonders aloud if Raheim is bisexual or on the down low. Raheim's noncommittal response: "I don't go for none of them labels. I'm just me, and that's all I gotta be."
Much of the rest of the play deals with Raheim's struggle to determine the "me" he truly is and how that impacts his relationships with his friends, his son, his "baby mama," and mostly with Mitchell. A shooting at a gay club and another angry act of physical violence shake Raheim to his core. Some serious self-reflection leads to a near-term resolution but suggests there is a lot of work to be done if he and Mitchell are to be more than ships that pass in the night.
Because the production, directed by Christopher Burris and well acted by its cast of eight, has been mounted as a showcase, there is almost nothing by the way of stage design beyond a couple of pieces of furniture that are moved in and out as needed, so what you get is mostly the actors performing on a bare set. The play itself is structured as a series of short, self-contained scenes marked by lighting and hip hop music cues and changes of costume to mark the passage of time and locale. Overall, the production has the rough-hewn quality that is typical of a festival entry of this sort. But if you are patient and attentive to everything as it unfolds, you may find yourself quite taken with the story of Mitchell and Raheim and of the lives being depicted.
B-Boy Blues The Play