Forget the red carpet. The drum beats on Fifth Avenue and 125th Street drew a select audience into the National Black Theatre for the eagerly awaited world premiere of Radha Blank's SEED. The 5-character drama involving a social worker, a family, and a prison inmate, against a back screen of the New York City subways and Harlem environs is fresh, lively, and let's just say, features one of the funniest exchanges ever to take place at a DuaneReade.
Harlem may be a vital part of New York City, but the city depicted here both in the theater and on the street has a character all its own. In the play, some aspects of Harlem life may be grim, as in a story line where mom's boyfriend has a yen for her 6 year-old. But one thing shines out: language. SEED is so poetic a work, and the fine ensemble, Jocelyn Bioh, Khadim Diop, Bridget Antionette Evans, Jaime Lincoln Smith, and Pernell Walker, directed by Niegel Smith, captures both the realism and the poetry.
Prior to this special performance, co-presented by Classical Theatre of Harlem and Hip Hop Theater Festival, cocktails at Red Rooster included that popular restaurant's signature lobster salad and mac and cheese with collard greens. Playwright Katori Hall, anticipating a Broadway production of her play, The Mountain Top, starring Angela Bassett and Samuel L. Jackson, mingled with actors from prior CTH productions such as Zainab Jah, so good as Electra a few seasons ago.
Resilience is a theme too. CTH producing director Ty Jones noted that Hurricane Irene may have destroyed the SEED sets and bleachers prepared for this night and stored in a barn upstate, but CTH was able to rebuild them in a week. And Radha Blank said she grew up a few blocks away. Now her play, so shaped by the sound and sense of this place, is here: "Isn't that dope?"
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.