Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
B.R.O.K.E.N code B.I.R.D switching
Also see Fred's review of Ain't Misbehavin'
The plot, which features several threads, is intriguing. Olivia Bennett (DeAnna Supplee) works for little money, legal-aid style, and throws herself into the defense of young Deshawn Payne (Justin Sturgis). Emotional and angry, he has been been charged with murder. Meanwhile, Olivia's marriage to Mark Bennett (Torsten Johnson) is falling apart. She is Black and he is a white, conventional, wannabe-wealthy attorney. Another storyline finds photographer Olen Porter (Jahi Kearse) snapping pictures of Deshawn. Porter's lifestyle includes quickly moving from one locale to another. Now, she and Olivia become mutually attracted. Olivia and Porter share their quest to seek justice for those who need support and attention. Porter also believes he can help to alleviate Olivia's moods of heightened anxiety.
The realistic dialogue, on a personal level, between both Olivia and Mark as well as Olivia and Porter is exceptionally acute. The writing is incisive and piercing, particularly during these sequences. Shortly after intermission, the agitating give-and-take between Mark and Olivia is nothing short of striking. This section demonstrates playwright Noth at her very best.
Tara L. Wilson Noth began writing her script five years ago and BTG workshopped the play before it was also presented as in-progress in Los Angeles. In the current production at the Unicorn, large images which appear behind the actors, prove pivotal since they provide context. Projection designer David Murakami skillfully enriches the show with a multitude of visuals.
DeAnna Supplee, faced with demanding shifts of persona as Olivia, brings dexterity, versatility and great quantities of energy to her character portrayal. Torsten Johnson, as Mark Bennett, is similarly winning. Jahi Kearse's Porter evidences one emotional tilt after another and this actor, with a nifty list of artistic credits to his name, impresses throughout. The entire cast, including Almeria Campbell as Evelyn Payne and Rebecca L. Hargrove as Katherine Morgan, is authentic. Such a physically demanding show dictates that actors summon a wide-ranging array of feelings. Noth's characters are vivid and oftentimes driven.
This drama insists upon specific detail, and director Kimille Howard adds the necessary definition as one moment yields to the next and performers need to shift on a dime. The fine movement and direction for the entire two hours of running time cannot be underestimated. There does not appear to be major opportunity for improvisation here.
The title of the play might be its most problematic aspect. Without some prior research, many theatergoers might not have any knowledge of the meaning of code-switching. According to the playwright, it is about the transfer or diversion, perhaps, of patterns of speech or behavior to match a circumstance. Hence, more than one story or viewpoint supplies dramatic theater with purpose and theme. The issue is that this particular name, B.R.O.K.E.N code B.I.R.D switching, is, at best, unfamiliar if not distracting.
The cast delivers this contemporary, valuable theater piece with spirit and conviction. As it continues at BTG, the production will surely elevate further. It's a new and probably still formative work.
B.R.O.K.E.N code B.I.R.D switching runs through July 9, 2022, at Berkshire Theatre Group's Unicorn Theatre, 6 East St., Stockbridge MA. for tickets and information, call 413-997-4444 or visit berkshiretheatregroup.org.