What does it say about our world today when a young black woman can shout, “He was minding his own business!” and we can finish the sad story in our heads?
Christina Anderson’s BlackTop Sky begins just this way, in mid-sentence, as Ida (Aziza Macklin) recounts the story of a young black man being assaulted by the police. Ida is headstrong and idealistic but young—in fact, she has reached at a pivotal moment of her life, having turned 18 and now deciding where to point her life next. Does she stay to help her mother in her ailing health, which Ida seems to resent? Does she head into the unknown to begin building her own life?
Her doting boyfriend, Wynn (Landon Horton), offers Ida a chance to escape the projects and receive an education like he did. At the same time, Ida encounters Klass (Kameron Richardson), a homeless youth camped on a bench outside of her building. His simple presence seems to remind Ida of where she has come from, and she both accepts and resists his friendship over the course of the play.
Ida is a bit of a mystery to me—I am never sure what she wants. Perhaps that’s the point—young Ida isn’t quite sure herself. For instance, how should Ida respond to the police violence against Antonio, the young black man? Raise a banner, begin a protest? Keep her head down and avoid bringing trouble upon herself? Macklin tackles this character with humor and vulnerability. While it’s interesting to watch Ida when she is meek and unsure, Macklin’s most vivid moments come from Ida taking charge, putting her foot down, getting the job done.
Horton’s Wynn is beyond charming from his first scene, with a megawatt smile and a flirtatious manner. A strong foil to Ida, Wynn is resolute in knowing what he wants. Richardson’s Klass is warm and engaging, though we get to know him more gradually. (Again, there’s a story: how we rarely stop to truly meet our homeless, our indigent.) As far as what Klass wants, it boils down to what any of us might want: to be heard, to be seen (not just watched), to be understood.
This three-part cast is a young one, but each actor carries their role with maturity, from the lightest moments to the heaviest. These actors are all at the very beginning of their careers and I hope to see more of each of them on Cincinnati’s stages.
BlackTop Sky is a fast-paced, emotionally-riddled work set intimately upon a thrust stage. The light and sound design root you distinctly within an inner city, complete with muffled hip-hop and distant sirens. The past, present and future unfold without ever leaving that set of courtyard benches, but the nature of the place changes: sometimes it’s a claustrophobic prison, sometimes it’s the only place to see the sky.
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