When Black Boys Die is a timely story about a young woman coming to grips with gun violence after her brother is murdered. Homicide is a leading cause of death for young black men, but this play, directed by Emmy Award winner William Electric Black, delves deeper, showing how these deaths cause pain not only for the families but for entire communities. Relevant topics touched upon include: the need for consistent father figures within the African-American community; that fatherless daughters often become hyper-sexual in their search for a love that only a father can fill; the burden of the female matriarch in the African-American community; and the call for accountability from within the community to stop black on black crime.
Ruby Weeks (Verna Hampton) the family matriarch, remains strong after the death of her son, Levon, an inner city youth seen as a success story. Before he can begin college on a basketball scholarship, Levon is gunned down, sending shock waves through his family and neighborhood. Torre Reigns is terrific as the determined yet vulnerable Weeks.
Levon’s family deals with his death in different ways. Ruby obsessively maintains a list of young black men who have been murdered within the community. This is Ruby’s coping mechanism, her way to control what she can control – remembering these young men even while she’s helpless to stop the vicious cycle of murder, pain and gang violence.
Levon’s sister, Danielle (Brittney Benson), mocks “the list” and calls her mother “angry and bitter.” Yet Danielle struggles, too, processing her brother’s death while trying to break free from the bondage of the ghetto.
From start to finish, the atmosphere and ensemble let us know that life in inner-city streets can be gritty and dangerous. Residents of the Wood Haven Houses are tormented with the sounds of bullets ripping through the night air and gang-related murders. But there are many personal story lines flowing beneath the surface that are interwoven together to make for a very touching production.
R. Ashley Bowles is a standout in the role of Say What, a drunken-prophet-poet-insane-genius of a man who has long been a community fixture. Say What appears on the brink of insanity, but beneath that veneer is a man who has seen a lot, and who just happens to know things.
Levern Williams plays Mr. Jackson, whose relationship with the exceptional Levon Weeks symbolizes the need for more positive male figures within the black community. Williams shows Jackson’s great dignity and strength without being didactic. Scarlett Elizabeth is perfectly cast as Cece Torres, the over-sexualized, “around-the-way pretty girl” who gets involved with gang members Dray (Brandon Mellette) and JB (Lorenzo Jackson). Both Mellette and Jackson are electrifying in their roles as young, black men who are a part of the cycle of neighborhood brutality.
Be prepared for many unexpected twists and turns; the murders and the victims are not what they seem to be.“Bite the snake, before it bites you,” the words spoken by Say What, are prophetic. When Black Boys Die is the perfect vehicle for beginning the conversation about gun violence and the communities affected. Educators and community activists, take note.
Photos by Jonathan Slaff:
1. Torre Reigns (center), Lorenzo A. Jackson, left, and Brandon Mellette
2. Brittney Benson, left, Verna Hampton
3. L-R: Scarlett Smith, Torre Reigns, Brandon Mellette, Lorenzo A. Jackson
Photos by Rosalie Baijer.
4. R. Ashley Bowles
5. Left to right: R. Ashley Bowles, Scarlett Smith, Lorenzo A. Jackson, Brandon Mellette
When Black Boys Die is the second in a series of five plays by William Electric Black, to be collectively called “Gun Plays”, that address inner city violence and guns.
Theater for the New City will present the work from March 5 through March 22, 2015
Thursdays –Saturdays at 8 p.m. Sundays at 3 p.m.
For more information about the play, visit the website for Gun Plays.
Theater for the New City
155 First Avenue (at 10th Street)