07/22/2012 03:50 pm ET | Updated Sep 21, 2012

Telling Harrowing Tales About Child Abuse

A pattern common to families that suffer domestic abuse is that the abused child grows up to become an adult who reenacts the abuse he received in his youth. Sometimes it's only a matter of time before self-destructive behaviors which have lain dormant (or which the abused child hopes to have conquered) resurface to destroy years of hard work aimed at overcoming one's past.

The Berkeley Repertory Theatre recently presented Black N Blue Boys/Broken Men as part of a world premiere co-production with the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. A deeply disturbing one-woman show written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith, this powerful monologue delivers 90 minutes of gut-wrenching tales about young boys who, after being abused by their fathers, mothers, uncles, and friends of the family, grew into adults sitting on a powder keg of repressed anger.


Dael Orlandersmith is the writer and solo performer of Black N Blue Boys/Broken Men

Among the battered souls brought to life by Orlandersmith are:

  • Flaco, a young man whose mother's roving fingers would not leave him alone. No one believes Flaco when he complains about his mother's insistence on reaching into his pants and fondling his dick, so he finally gives up and starts having sex with her. After his father walks into the room one afternoon and finds Flaco fucking his mother, the boy is thrown out of the apartment and, at the age of 12, learns from a friend how to hustle tricks under the Coney Island boardwalk. A pimp gives Flaco $30 each time he satisfies a customer but, upon learning that the pimp is charging his customers $300, Flaco gets mad, leaves the shelter of the pimp's home, and starts turning tricks in the West Village. Often, his clients are wealthy businessmen who want a threeway with their wives or girlfriends. One night, Flaco is picked up by a man in a limousine who fucks the 14-year-old boy until he bleeds, then throws $400 in his face and orders him to get the hell out of the car. That $400 is the most money Flaco has ever made in one day, but it makes him feel awful. He can't wait for a chance to wash himself off.
  • Tenny, the uncle everyone loves and trusts. One day, after Tenny picked his nephew up from swimming practice, the boy begged him for some ice cream. After a stop at Dairy Queen, they got back in the car with their ice cream and the young boy innocently licked Tenny's face to get a taste of Tenny's vanilla ice cream. Tenny returned the favor, but soon started licking more and more of his nephew's young body until he had pulled the kid's pants down and raped him.

Dael Orlandersmith (Photo by: Kevin Berne)

  • Ian grew up in one of Britain's council houses (the equivalent of an American housing project). His father was a violent drunk who always came home from the pub in a dangerous state. As Ian matured, he was the only one of his friends who never touched alcohol. Finally, he got up the courage to leave home, moved to London, and got a job in a nice restaurant. Upon moving to New York, he continued to work at bettering himself and eventually started dating an attractive woman from Greenwich, Connecticut. On the night she threw a birthday party for him in his own apartment, Ian had two glasses of wine. He was fucking a stranger in the bathroom when his girlfriend walked in on them. Like his father, he erupted and became a violent, sadistic drunk.
  • Mikey fell in love with books at an early age and spent long hours at the library to avoid the toxic atmosphere at home. Books became his safety net, taking him to faraway places and on grand adventures as he put himself through college and eventually got a job working with runaway children. One night, his assistant didn't show up at the shelter where he worked, so he had to cook dinner for the kids (one of whom kept calling him "98 cent Mike" and teasing Mike because he was a "trick baby"). Suddenly, Mike snapped, spanked the living daylights out of the kid, and barely even knew what had come over him.
  • Another young boy grew up watching his mother and her friends take turns going into the bathroom where they should shoot up before reemerging in a very sleepy state. Occasionally his mother would get better, but soon her new boyfriend started shooting up as well. The boy tried to protect his baby sister but, one day, the infant saw what her mother was doing and tried to mimic her behavior. In the process, the young girl ate the contents of a small bag of white powder and died of an overdose. Even today, the older brother feels guilty for the girl's death and misses her terribly.

Dael Orlandersmith in a moment from her monologue entitled
Black N Blue Boys/Broken Men (Photo by: Kevin Berne)

Orlandersmith's writing is powerful, beautifully edited, and goes to very dark places that some theatregoers may not want to visit with her. A former social worker who once was employed at a shelter for runaway children, she paints devastating portraits of children whose youth and innocence were stolen from them by irresponsible adults.

Chay Yew, who directed the piece with acute sensitivity to pacing, was helped tremendously by Ben Stanton's subtle lighting and Mikhail Fiksel's sound design. Unlike many monologues (which are performed on rather shallow stages), Daniel Ostling's angular unit set reached far upstage into the heart of darkness, despair, depravity, and degradation in which these children were raised.

Black N Blue Boys/Broken Men is a riveting evening anchored by Orlandersmith's hypnotic power as a storyteller. Here's the trailer:

To read more of George Heymont go to My Cultural Landscape