Tuesday, October 14, 2014

'Forever,' A Daughter's Truly Disturbing Memoir

Dael Orlandersmith

By Darlene Donloe

 Forever is a long time.

It’s a long time to hope, to endure, to wonder, to hold grudges, to be resentful, to love and to hate.

Wordsmith and performer Dael Orlandersmith’s version of Forever, is currently playing through Oct. 26, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.  

This is the world premiere of Forever, directed by Center Theatre Group Associate Artistic Director Neel Keller. It’s a seriously intense, 90-minute, one-act, one-woman therapy session that is uncomfortable, edgy and disturbing.  The reading is about family – the ones we were born into and the ones we create for ourselves, is emotional, dramatic, transforming and entrancing.

In the show Orlandersmith takes the audience on a journey through her childhood and up to the present day.  It’s a memoir in which she reveals the harsh upbringing she endured in New York at the hands of the one person who should have protected her from harm – her mother.  It was clearly a love/hate bond. She wonders, out loud, how and why God allowed her to be born to her mother.  Their relationship was uneasy, complex and volatile.

The notion of family is explored in several ways - from the childhood girlfriend that she was close to, but was separated from because Orlandersmith’s mother didn’t like the child’s pedigree, to a police officer named Terrence O’Malley who showed her love and support after she had a traumatic experience.

Orlandersmith speaks freely and happily of her time in Paris at the famed Pere Lachaise Cemetery where strangers from around the world make pilgrimages to the graves of legendary artists like Jim Morrison, Sarah Bernhardt, Chopin, Marcel Proust and Richard Wright. Parts of the reading take place in the legendary cemetery. It was, surprisingly, a happy place for Orlandersmith who shared a different kind of ‘kinship’ with the strangers who journeyed there. It was a kinship based solely on common interests.

When she was young and trying to find her way, Orlandersmith found solace and happiness in the music Jim Morrison, which apparently opened up a whole new world for her, one that included kindred spirits. Those like-minded writers and performers helped shape her soul.

Although the legacy left by her mother was filled with bitterness, mystery, pain and abuse, Orlandersmith walked through the pain by focusing on poetry, art and especially music.

Orlandersmith, whose previous plays include Stoop Stories and Bones, has a natural, smooth cadence as she slowly reels in the audience with powerful material that leaves them spent. She didn't like her mother - that's clear. Her mother had issues with her - that's clear. Until recently, Orlandersmith had never mentioned her mother's name on stage. She finally did with this show. Her mother's name was Beulah Brown. Orlandersmith seemed to utter the name as a way of freeing herself from her mother's emotional grip.

This isn’t a production that is easily digested or ingested. It evokes memories and encourages conversations.

Hers is a gripping and candid account of a relationship with her broken, alcoholic mother that she, herself, admits will affect her Forever.

The play is dedicated to Orlandersmith’s mother, Beulah Brown.

Orlandersmith’s award-winning plays have been commissioned and presented by theatres across the U.S., including “Black n’ Blue Boys/Broken Men,” “Horsedreams,” “The Blue Album,” “Yellowman,” “The Gimmick,” “Monster” and “Beauty’s Daughter.”  She is the recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts Grant, the Helen Merrill Award for Emerging Playwrights, a Guggenheim and the 2005 PEN/Laura Pels Foundation Award for a playwright in mid-career and a Lucille Lortel Foundation Playwrights Fellowship.

Forever is the second, among five, DouglasPlus presentations for the 2014-2015 Kirk Douglas Theatre season. Forever was commissioned and developed by Center Theatre Group.

Forever is a DouglasPlus presentation. DouglasPlus is an eclectic mix of theatre choices, ranging from fully-staged or minimally-staged events to workshops and readings that utilize both traditional and non-traditional performance spaces and seating configurations within the theatre. Each presentation has a limited number of performances.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (oh, yeah) and E (excellent), Forever gets an E (excellent).

Forever, Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues. – Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat. 2 and 8 p.m., Sun.1 and 6:30 p.m.; $20-$30; www.CenterTheatreGroup.com or 213 628-2772.

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