SpeakEasy’s ‘BLKS’: When things go bad, go out
BOSTON — When things can’t get much worse, doing bad can feel so good.
The poet and performer Aziza Barnes, a first-time playwright, has come out of the box swinging with the raucous comedy “BLKS,” now being presented by the SpeakEasy Stage Company in the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts through Nov. 20.
“BLKS” features “Girls Gone Bad” humor from a wild night on the town while also asserting some simply stated truths about the place of young Black women in the world at large.
The language and sexual situations depicted have SpeakEasy recommending theater-goers be 17 or older, but the dialogue feels real for the three young female Black roommates living in a part of Brooklyn where gentrification hasn’t yet arrived. And while they feel at home in their neighborhood, they feel anything but when they journey out onto streets of Manhattan and a club in SoHo.
The trio don’t always make good choices. Instead, buoyed by good weed and Maker’s Mark, they make lightning-quick decisions that have regret pasted all over them. It’s kind of like the movie “The Hangover” but with three young Black women instead of a bunch of white bros, Mike Tyson and a tiger.
There’s Imani (Kelsey Fonise), who hopes to launch a career in stand-up comedy by memorizing and presenting segments of Eddie Murphy’s classic “Raw”; it is also a mechanism to deal with unresolved grief when it comes to her father.
Octavia (Shanelle Chloe Villegos) – who along with Imani self-identifies as “the most-fired Blacks of 2015” — has a vision of making a movie with her sort-of partner Ry (Sandra Seoane Seri).
That is until Octavia has a health scare involving a very intimate part of her body, and orders Ry out of the apartment when she refuses to inspect the area where the problem exists.
June (Thomika Marie Bridwell) has a boyfriend of five years named Jamal who is a serial philanderer who has been caught for an 11th time, and June seems determined to make it his last. At the same time, she is upwardly mobile when she mentions – almost as an afterthought – she has landed a lucrative consultancy with the accounting firm Deloitte.
The fear and dread from Octavia’s medical issues become the motivation for going out. But real life keeps interrupting everything that happens as the three women “get extremely day drunk” and “extremely night fly.”
When a confrontation between a woman and a man threatens to become physical, June steps in and herself becomes the victim of a sexual assault. And what do you do when the cops don’t come when they’re called?
There’s some strong supporting work from Shamarke Yusuf in a series of male characters, including Sosa, a serial panty-ripper, and Justin, a nice guy whom June meets at a club but is eventually revealed as a quirky stalker type with Krazy Glue skills.
Meghan Hornblower scores as a hapless white foil for Imani, especially when it comes to the many questions the drunken woman asks.
Imani pipes up. “If you want me to be your blk person survival guide slash encyclopedia, I got a rate.”
The rate happens to be $50 a question, and later, when her Venmo account is credited, Imani realizes she has been rehearsing a joke about reparations only to be stunned when the woman actually pays. Imani worries that she “accidentally became a ho in getting it.”
By the end of the 100-minute piece performed without an intermission, the playwright has a lot of balls up in the air when it comes to their characters, and landing the plane seems a bit awkward at times.
Even with its rough edges, “BLKS” has many moments when it is awash with heart and humor. That is until their reality strikes again with the news of yet another police killing of another unarmed black person, punching them all in the face once again.
The set by Jenna McFarland Lord inspired by visual artist Lavett Ballard is a tribute to the “Where Bed-Stuy meets Bushwick” vibe of the apartment where the women live.
Director Tonasia Jones keeps events moving at a breakneck pace. She sees “BLKS” as a love letter to the sisterhood of Black women, and with that in mind many times the bonds between the women are stretched, but they never break.
It is that joy in the strength of the sisterhood that is celebrated in the morning after a train wreck of an evening,
The SpeakEasy Stage Company production of “BLKS.” Written by Aziza Barnes. Directed by Tonasia Jones. Scenic design by Jenna McFarland Lord. Costumes by Cassandra Queen. Lighting design by Kat C. Zhou. Sound design by Anna Drummond. Fight and Intimacy Design by Ted Hewlett. Performed in the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts through Nov. 20. SpeakEasyStage.com.