Don’t Stay Safe! (A Stirring Musical Theater Piece)
Cara Reichel and Prospect Theater Company co-produced Cheryl L. Davis/ Douglas Cohen’s Bridges at the Times Center June 2017. When Black Lives Matter protests began, she asked whether the collaborators would write a short sequel/companion piece dramatizing how Franki (the protagonist in that piece during 2008) responds to 2020 protests and the pandemic. It would be part of their VISION series. Bridges is unavailable to stream, nor have I seen it. The piece apparently concerned itself with “One family’s struggle for civil rights over time and distance.” Don’t Stay Safe has enough substance and relevancy to stand alone.
Franki (Iris Beaumier) is enmeshed in current events, glued to her laptop, frustrated, outraged, undoubtedly making her beliefs known online. Sequestered in her apartment with partner Taylor (LaToya Edwards), whose point of view is one of impotent withdrawal, the women argue. Meanwhile, Franki’s firebrand brother, Eddie (Nygel D. Robinson), is out in the trenches, i.e. actively protesting. (Demonstration footage is deftly superimposed on the apartment scene.) “Come march in New York City,” he urges. “Don’t make the safe choice!”
We infer that Franki’s natural inclinations would find her by Eddie’s side were it not for Covid, that he’s certain of this. He assures her he’ll be fine, that he’ll stay with friends. Franki insists he come shelter with her. Crowd sounds and gunshots suddenly make the protest real. Franki reacts reflexively, packing to join Eddie. Taylor is frightened, appalled. “Do you know what’s happening out there?! Please don’t risk our future…We still have a chance…You don’t get to leave me, not this way!”
Franki is torn. “I’m breathing out, I’m breathing in…” She makes her decision.
Relating the plot takes nothing away from strong, musically manifest theater. Lyrics are compelling and uncompromising, music symbiotic and emotional. Acting/singing is terrific, direction taut, cinematography excellent. Mostly sung, emotional push/pull arrives in a more visceral way than mere words. One can’t help but be affected in more primal ways than thinking. All of us make this decision every day now. Everyone has his own line in the sand. Safety and participation can collide.
Don’t Stay Safe
Book & Lyrics by Cheryl L. Davis
Music by Douglas Cohen
Directed by Christine Franklin
Music Director- John Bronston
Cinematography- Lesley Steele
Question & Answer from Cast & Creatives
Prospect Theater Company is dedicated to a bright future for the American musical. We develop and produce new works, envisioned and implemented by emerging artists. Our artists work in diverse genres and styles but share an interest in re-inventing the art form of musical theater for the 21st Century.