Young Black women navigating careers, relationships, physical and mental health while carrying a lifetime of baggage is the journey audiences experience through “BLKS,” the latest production at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.
Written by Aziza Barnes and directed by Nataki Garrett, this play takes a mostly funny look at what happens as three Black female roommates deal with some surprising scenarios within a 24-hour period.
Barnes, the playwright, wanted to create a play that created a safe haven where Black women and Black femmes can be seen and heard. “Femme” describes a lesbian who is seen as traditionally feminine.
“I wrote this play in 2014 when Obama lived here,” Barnes said of bringing “BLKS” to the District. “It feels very much like a call to arms because Black women really matter.”
It’s New York City in 2015. Octavia (Cyndii Johnson), a writer who has an over-the-top reaction to just about everything and doesn’t understand why others don’t react to life in the same way. Imani (Shannon Dorsey), one of the roomies, is obsessed with Eddie Murphy’s “Raw” (We eventually learn why). June, played by Tatiana Williams, is a CPA who cannot free herself from a cheating boyfriend. This is the threesome, Octavia, Imani and June, Black women living under one roof.
A day of mishaps that includes Octavia getting fed up with her current lover, Ry, who doesn’t show interest in a health scare she has. June discovers her boyfriend has cheated, again. Imani is caught in the middle of listening to all the madness between her roommates. The ladies decide to shake it off by going to a club. Their adventure is fueled by alcohol and marijuana, so the ladies are more than ready for the club. Interesting encounters occur en route to and at the club that are a bit brutal, somewhat comical and very revealing about the three friends. The club is a space that welcomes whatever is one’s sexual orientation, so there is action for everyone.
At the club, Octavia sees Ry, who we thought was sent walking. Ry is making out with another woman, whose name in the program is “That B-tch on the Couch,” played by Madeline Joey Rose. Well, Octavia breaks that up. Then the “Couch B-tch,” who is White, is attracted to Imani. Imani is reluctant to give any time to this woman. June meets an interesting fella who appears to show an understanding of her day of frustration. Justin, played by Justin Weaks, is a bit strange.
It’s easy to throw out the word “crazy” to describe the three roommates and the people who are drawn to them. But peeling back the layers, it goes much deeper.
“A lot of Black women and Black femmes do not have access to therapy,” Barnes said. “Even if they do have access, there is a cultural stigma around unpacking what you have.”
The three friends call each other out on their stuff, but are supportive and share joy. That is what allows them to make it through 24 hours of drama. The play brings the audience along for a thought-provoking, joy-filled ride.
“BLKS” deserves our attention. That was confirmed by the standing ovation from the packed house at Woolly Mammoth. Attend with some of your friends and you will be engaged in conversation for a long time following the play.
“These three women, Octavia, June and Imani are lucky to have conflict and then have kindness,” Barnes said. “It’s showing I can have the fullest expression of myself.”
“BLKS” plays at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company until March 3. For ticket information, go to woollymammoth.net, call 202-393-3939, email firstname.lastname@example.org or the box office at 641 D Street NW. Patrons who are 30 and younger may, at any time, purchase Section C tickets for $20 to any performance. There are also discounts available for educators, first responders and active U.S. military personnel, spouses and veterans.