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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
America v. 2.1: The Sad Demise & Eventual Extinction of the American Negro

Be patient, Jeffery— Donavan

America v. 2.1: The Sad Demise & Eventual Extinction of the American Negro reveals a complex and often profound new voice for the American theatre— Stacey Rose.
: Ansa Akyea, Peterson Townsend, Kalyne Coleman
The world premiere at Barrington Stage Company's St. Germain Stage is a provocative reenactment of history through the lens of a "Not too distant future" white-dominated dystopia —where four African-American actors are bound in a newish type of slavery— forced to play up to twelve shows a day revering the white man’s burden of feeding, clothing and civilizing these ungrateful savages..

A play-within-a-play is suffused with pointed satirical, darkly funny and at times poignant observations about life in America from its colonial inception where the "Almighty Founding Fathers" such as Thomas Jefferson Hamilton and his ilk are shown as the saviors of savages lucky enough to have been brought to these shining shores and allowed to pick cotton and to adore the "White Jesus."

The story of this alternative America travels back in time to revisit the eras dominated by absurdist characters such as Jesus Christ Lincoln, The King Dr. Martin Jesse Jackson, Donald Reagan and Baracka Sadam Osama; while funny, they are also disturbingly accurate barbs aimed at delusional interpretations expounded by the "alt right" and conspiracy theorists of our own time.

In between the four acts of the propaganda-laden performances which the actors are forced to embrace, the back stage scenes express the anguish and reality of these survivors who smile for the white man in spite of heartache and terror. Though told that they are lucky to have been chosen for this "special" job, they sense that liberty is beyond their grasp and their anguish bursts forth from time to time in spite of the brainwashing, mind-numbing work environment they inhabit.

The four versatile actors of this Disney-like family entertainment dance, sing, and act this negative representation of the black/brown, and supposedly long-extinct, race for its highly security conscious audience. A soothing disembodied voice reminds the viewers to place their guns on their laps with the safety on while they enjoy a patriotic and historic send-up somewhat akin to D. W. Griffith’s vision of life in the glorious old South destroyed forever by the evil effects of the Civil War and the freeing of undeserving slaves.

The four actors who play multiple roles within this "dis-torical" show are a joy to watch as they seamlessly move from their shadowy minstrel-like personas to their behind the scenes anxiety- ridden struggles. They cling to their own humanity in spite of the constant threat of retribution.

Donavan, played by Ansa Akyea, is issued the impossible task as leader of the troupe - a man who must keep up appearances at all costs, mostly to his own self respect and sanity. Akyea is fluid in his transitions from comedic performer to troubled human being charged with keeping his fellow actors in line no matter how many lies he is forced to tell. His on stage dynamic physicality is mesmerizing in each of the roles he plays. The other three actors hold their own against his powerhouse performance which creates a potent, energy-driven ensemble that in a tight ninety minutes sucks the air out of the atmosphere. No one breathes or fidgets as all eyes are on the action.

Jordan Barrow’s Grant appears to have trouble with reality but is soon brought into line by a visit to "The Office." He has a remarkable singing voice and vague memories that haunt his life and cause concern to the others. His real life vulnerability is a marked contrast to the jubilant stage performer.

Kalyne Coleman as Leigh is mindful of the fine line that keeps the troupe from disaster, but she has a gritty determination to prevail. If there is ever a better life, she will be there to embrace it as self-preservation is her mantra. Coleman’s facial expressions and graceful movements tell all about her inner savvy and knowing subservience.

Peterson Townsend as Jeffery finds that mere survival is not enough. He increasingly fails to mouth his lines with sincerity - to play the game, as he is tortured by the loss of his past life especially his young son. His story is that of the rebel and we know his truth is his doom.

The Voice, played with chilling and quiet command by Peggy Pharr Wilson, is the invisible personification of control and dominance. No need to raise one’s voice when brutality is implied as Plan B. Wilson’s voice portrays all we need to know about this new society’s violent proclivities. At what point will the safeties on the guns open? That is in the back of everyone’s minds as the evening’s entertainment unfolds.

As talented and entrancing as the cast may be, the play is given its vitality and nuance through the direction by Logan Vaughn and choreography by Kevin Boseman. Ms. Vaughn has fluidly orchestrated the backstage scenes and the play-within-the-play with a sure hand so that the kinetic pace of the production does not lag. From the very opening of the play the audience is involved with the characters as they live their restricted lives and their showbiz recreation of the historic eras. Her staging of the Saturday Night Live style sketches is a combination of slapstick and tragedy. The musical numbers, without accompanying instrumentation, are in the hands (and feet) of Mr. Boseman. He resurrects the dance styles of the various periods while he expands and satirizes their movements. The cast performs these intricate numbers with panache.

Set designer Jack Magaw has created two worlds on the St. Germain’s small stage – the backstage areas and the sundry sets for the recreations by using a minimal combination of crates and historic flags. Simple props magically appear. The basic costumes designed by Ntkozo Fuzunina Kunene are of the motley clown variety complemented by the addition of a hat, coat or other article of clothing, all evocative of the diverse historical periods. The lighting of Cha See and the sound designed by Luqman Brown unobtrusively enhance the tone and temper of the production.

This is a brave work by Ms. Rose, written with a grand sense of the theatrical and incisive awareness of the historical. She addresses both our inner selves and our personal perspectives. The stark underpinnings of the show continue even after the play is over leaving the audience with a flood of emotions and opinions. This is a show that needs to be experienced.

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America v. 2.1: The Sad Demise & Eventual Extinction of the American Negro
Playwright: Stacey Rose
Directed by Logan Vaughn
Choreographer: Kevin Boseman
Cast: Ansa Akyea (Donovan) Jordan Barrow (Grant) Kalyne Coleman (Leigh) Peterson Townsend (Jeffery) Peggy Pharr Wilson (The Voice)
Scenic Design: Jack Magaw
Lighting Design: Cha See
Costume Design: Ntokozo Fuzunina Kunene
Sound Design: Luqman Brown
Dramaturg: Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zoe
Stage Manager: Geoff Boronda
Running Time: ninety minutes; no intermission
Barrington Stage Company's St. Germain Stage, Linden St., Pittsfield, MA; Opening: 6/14/19; Closing 6/30/19
Reviewed by Gloria Miller at June 20th performance

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