Leave it to The Flea to take a subject full of horror and make it, if not quite beautiful, stunning in its humanity. Their newest play, but i cd only whisper, by Kristiana Rae Colón, tackles an array of brutalities, both epic and banal, and looks at the everyday people who commit them. Colón’s script, inspired by Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf, is full of power and emotional punch. It also evokes question after question, each one birthed from the previous one’s answer.
Kineta Kunutu and Toussaint Jeanlouis
Beau Willie Brown (Toussaint Jeanlouis) is as charming and magnetic as his name would have you think. He has an eye for the ladies, and certainly doesn’t commit to a type. First there’s Crystal (Kineta Kunutu), the teenage mother of his two children. She’s a product of their poor neighborhood as much as he is, a black girl with a lot of strength and potential but limited by her circumstances. She’s sweet and shy, but there’s a lioness inside her ready to fight for those she loves.
Crystal Arnette and Toussaint Jeanlouis
Then there’s Genevieve (Crystal Arnette), the wealthy white girl with a penchant for doing things daddy—and “polite” society—wouldn’t like. She’s anything but a blushing rose. Her fiery temper is matched only by her fiery passion, and when Beau goes off to fight in the Vietnam war, she has no qualms about sending him risqué photos to remember her by.
Unfortunately for Beau, the army is an extension of the society Genevieve likes to flout, and the photos land him in trouble with his platoon mates. They’re supposed to be his band of brothers, but they still don’t want a “brother” dating one of their sisters. Things get ugly within and without. Brutality begets brutality, and as the war grinds on Beau Willie Brown becomes a perpetrator of despicable acts, a witness to violent inhumanity, and a victim caught in the gears of war—one man who’s three kinds of damaged.
As is standard for a Flea production, this isn’t the kind of play that allows for passive viewing. There’s a lot of work to be done to understand the full depth of what’s going on at any moment. Inferences must be made based on single-sided conversations throughout, a puzzle with a terrible ending that’s drawn out one non-chronological scene at a time.
Toussaint Jealous and Brandon Rubin
What we know from the beginning is that Beau is seeing a psychologist, Drummond (Brandon Rubin). It doesn’t seem like his choice, and we don’t know the grounds on which he must see this man, but there is a manic, almost frantic feeling underlying Beau’s every word, his every move. Is it his quickness to anger that got him in trouble? Deeds like the black eye he gave the beautiful young Crystal? Or is it simply that this man has come home to deal with the soul-defeating experience that was Vietnam. As the pieces come together it seems like there’s no one easy explanation.
Matt Stango and Toussaint Jeanlouis
The cast is rounded out by Matt Stango as Beau’s superior officer and Akeem Baisden Folkes as his brother, Marvin. The show can be intense at times, and Jeanlouis and Kunutu in particular turn in powerful performances that question what it is to be a man, a woman, black, poor, and struggling in America. The other characters set a tone, describe what things are like in the United States at that point in time for certain kinds of people—educated minorities, military rednecks, good people just trying to get by—but the heart of the story lies in Beau and Crystal’s love and the impossibility of finding peace after the horror of war. Their battlefields may be dissimilar, but their lives are forever changed by the battles they had to fight. They are survivors, but they are not unscathed.
Photos by Hunter Canning
but I cd only whisper
Through March 20, 2016
The Flea Theater
41 White Street